New Delhi: Pratyaya Amrit, principal secretary, energy, for Bihar is being credited for the success of the state’s rural electrification drive. Having earned his spurs by building roads and bridges in the state, the soft spoken Amrit, a 1991 batch Bihar cadre Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, was entrusted by chief minister Nitish Kumar to get the laggard state’s electricity story right, after reviving the moribund Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam. In an interview with Mint, Amrit spoke about the difficulties faced in getting all 39,073 of Bihar’s revenue villages electrified, and electricity’s role in improving the state’s agrarian economy. Edited excerpts.

How did you get the electrification story right?

When we joined, more than 3,000 villages were under the category of unelectrified villages.... In this journey, the first thing we realized that the same executive engineers looking after the supply cannot look after the projects. So, the first reform was that I got a new team of independent executive engineers for projects, only to look after rural electrification. So, that was the first fundamental reform and then they had an assistant engineer, a JE (junior engineer), and an entire team dedicated to it. So, I got it completely segregated from supply.

Second was the payment policy. I mean for most of these contractors it was not easy to work because, on an average, it used to take more than 100 days for them to get their bills cleared. We structured the payment policy in such a way that the bills get cleared in 15 days. These two things actually triggered it off.

Also Read: Hardarpur revenue village: The last milestone in Bihar rural electrification drive

Although I used a lot of apps to monitor, there can’t be any substitute to field visits. So we used to intensely tour these districts, stay the night and talk to people. And, the more you travel in the area, the better understanding you have of the challenges. The challenge actually is the geographical terrain of Bihar.

Now, if I have to divide the challenges, in Bihar we realized that specially two areas which were of huge challenges were the riverine or the Diara belt comprising of Sonpur, Patna, Bhagalpur, Khagaria, etc. These areas were of huge challenge because due to the difficulties faced in the transportation of material and erection of transmission towers.

More importantly, a lot of people who are not from Bihar won’t realize that unlike Rajasthan, Gujarat or Maharashtra, in Bihar, which is also true for Assam, one can’t work for four months because of the floods. So the working season is not more than six to seven months in Bihar. On the other hand, if there is extreme heat, one can’t work. So, we had to plan in such a way that before the rains, all transmission towers got erected in these riverine belts, so that conducting wouldn’t be a big challenge.

The second terrain which posed a huge challenge was Kaimur forest, Rohtas forest, hilly terrain and districts like Bettiah bordering Nepal, inhabited by Tharus. The problem we faced was that because of the forests, they will not allow these lines and poles and it is very difficult to get permission from the forest department. So we hit upon this idea of off grid solutions.

So, first we attacked those villages where it was relatively easy to work and then in the last leg, we entered into this area where we knew that challenges are there. As on date, all revenue villages have been electrified. Now in the second phase, what we are left with is the so-called IEV (intensification of electrified villages).

Was Bihar’s Har Ghar Bijli Yojana the trigger for Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) to provide electricity connections to over 40 million families in rural and urban areas?

We started Har Ghar Bijli Yojana in November 2016. A national workshop was held by the ministry of power on 8 and 9 August 2017 in Patna, where we had delegates from 16 states. Apart from the presentation, we took them to the districts where there was no paper work involved and everything was app-driven. Earlier, it was unthinkable in Bihar that electricity will come.

How will electricity impact the state’s economy?

Once you have electricity in that area, apart from social impact, educational impetus, and improvement on the safety front, a lot of things will happen. But the most important thing, according to me, is the construction of dedicated separate agricultural feeders now. Bihar didn’t have these. And we are providing 1,312 dedicated agricultural feeders. We are confident that by year-end (2018), we would have constructed more than 800 feeders. Now, what it means is the money spent now on diesel pump set will get saved and we will give eight hours of power in these dedicated feeders. There is nothing new. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have done this long time back. So, once we do this, agriculture, which is our base (sector), will see a huge jump. That is bound to impact the productivity and there will be huge savings because of eight hours of electricity. So, agricultural productivity is bound to go up. As of today, agriculture’s share in electricity consumption is 3-4%. This is bound to jump up to 18-20%.

So, this is one area that is going to radicalize the rural economy once the dedicated agricultural feeders become operational. Once its impact starts, people will realize.

The second thing which I would like to share is that during my field visits in the riverine belt, I have started seeing new buildings with residential schools coming up in Chhapra Diara, which was earlier known for kidnapping. It is because of electricity that this is happening and property prices have gone up everywhere. And now with people building houses, rural roads are also coming up big time.

How has this impacted the state’s per capita electricity consumption?

Earlier, the per capita electricity consumption was 112 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). It should be somewhere around 360 kWh now. It is nothing compared to the national average which is something like 1,200 kWh. But there is a reason behind it which one must understand—the state hasn’t seen any industrialization. The advantages enjoyed by states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat are that more than 40% of the consumers are HT (high-tension) consumers. It offers advantages in terms of load growth and easier bill collection.

Our peak demand grew from 1,800 MW in 2014 to 4,600 MW on 7 October 2017. So hopefully, with all this rural electrification and the kind of work that we are doing, I think we should end 2018 with a demand of 5,800-6,000 MW and this is, mind you, without too much of industrialization.

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