New Delhi: Hardarpur, a sleepy village in the Diara or riverine belt of Bihar, was in news last December when it became the last of the 39,073 revenue villages in the state to get electricity access. This milestone in Bihar’s electrification drive also holds the promise of improving the state’s agrarian economy and, in turn, helping reduce poverty in India’s third-most populous state.
“In Bihar we realized that one of the areas which was of huge challenge was the riverine or the Diara belt comprising Sonpur, Patna, Bhagalpur, Khagaria, etc. These areas were of huge challenge due to the difficulties faced in the transportation of material and erection of transmission towers," said Pratyaya Amrit, principal secretary, energy, for Bihar in a phone interview.
The 9-km electricity link to Hardarpur (formerly known as Haridaspur) under the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana is representative of the state’s difficult rural electrification journey. The village, having around 1,700 homes, is located on an island in the middle of the mighty Ganges river. It can be either reached through temporary floating bridges (during February-May) or by boat. These temporary bridges are removed before the onset of monsoon. One needs to travel to Shahpur Patori in Samastipur, located 50km from state capital Patna, to take the boat to Diara. After the boat journey, a trek across the sand bed brings one to the village.
Jai Prakash Singh, a 40-year-old electrical executive engineer in North Bihar Power Distribution Co. Ltd and in charge of Samastipur district under which Hardarpur falls, is proud of what his team has accomplished.
“It was a very tough job filled with difficulties. One had to transport all equipment including poles, transformers, conductor, stone chips for pole base and all necessary accessories such as clamps and iron brackets on boats," said Singh, a resident of Buxar district, over the phone.
Once the boats reached the other side, it took two tractors to pull the equipment trolley due to the resistant 3-km-long sandy stretch on the river banks.
“The village lies between the two currents of Ganga. It is on the border of the three districts of Vaishali, Patna and Samastipur. Boat is the (only) means of transportation. For most part of the year it is flooded. Transportation to the village is an issue... This was a bottleneck for my district," said Samastipur district magistrate Pranav Kumar.
With the villagers lugging diesel from a distance of 15 km to fuel their pumps for irrigating their fields, electricity access holds the promise of a better future.
The share of agriculture in Bihar’s gross domestic product is 18.1%.
“We realized that electricity would bring a sea change in their lives given that the area is very fertile," said Singh, a diploma holder from Chandouli Polytechnic Institute in Varanasi.
With the state working on constructing 1,312 dedicated electricity feeders for agriculture, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is betting on the electricity push, given the high proportion of the state’s total land being used for agricultural purposes.
“Despite being the area being very fertile, currently we are only able to cultivate one crop during the Rabi season (winter crop season beginning October). Electricity will help solve the problem of irrigation," said Kumar.
The early indicators are there. As compared to 3,952 million kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity sold in 2004-05, the state distribution utilities sold 10,147.40 million kWh in 2014-15. Also, there has been a reduction in poverty levels. According to Bihar’s Economic Survey 2016-17, the poverty ratio in Bihar was reduced by 20.7 percentage points, from 54.4% in 2004-05 to 33.7% in 2011-12.
“So, once we do this (separate agricultural feeders), agriculture which is our base, that will see a huge jump (in electricity demand). That is bound to impact 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 to 18-20%," said Amrit.
According to the state government, Bihar’s energy requirements are projected to reach 34,105 million units (MU) from 25,119 MU in 2017-18.
“Taking the electricity grid to the last village in Bihar is transformational on the possibilities it brings to life—economic and social upliftment, increase in agricultural and industrial productivity, women empowerment and realistic expectation of connecting all households by 2019 and 24x7 power by 2022," said Sambitosh Mohapatra, partner, energy and utilities at PwC India.
The twin measures of increase in tie-ups for power generation and strengthening the distribution network adopted by the Bihar government helped the state achieve 20 hours of average electricity supply. This in turn increased the state’s per capita electricity consumption from 75 per kWh in 2005 to 360 kWh, despite negligible industrialization.
“We can’t do anything without electricity. It forms the basis of any developmental activity. With Bihar’s economy being primarily dependent on agriculture, electricity is a must for the same. With the Diara region very fertile, electricity will help reduce poverty and help improve their living standards. Why will people go elsewhere for jobs then?" asked Singh.
This is a case of a glass half full. Once the electricity reaches a village, the next step is household electrification. With a total of 15.4 million households, the Bihar chief minister came up with ‘Saat Nischay’ or ‘7 Points’ programme with electricity being one of the core commitments. This resulted in the launch of ‘Har Ghar Bijli Lagaatar’ scheme in November 2016 to provide electricity connection to over 5 million households in Bihar by 2018.
With the last-mile connectivity proving to be a hurdle in achieving the goal of lighting every household, the state’s scheme provided the blue print for the Union government’s Rs16,320-crore Saubhagya scheme launched in September last year to provide electricity connections to over 40 million families in rural and urban areas by December 2018.
“It was Bihar which first launched the Har Ghar Bijli for household electrification," said Singh.
“Before Saubhagya, Har Ghar Bijli was a resolve taken by the chief minister," added Kumar.
Bihar has many a first to its credit in the power sector. While the Union government is still pressing for tariff slabs rationalization, Bihar became a pioneer in tariff simplification and rationalization and brought down around 140 tariff slabs to 40. Also, after having taken power to all its revenue villages, the state is now racing to electrify all its households.
“We need to set up the infrastructure to provide electricity to households. If there is no wire and pole, Saubhagya might turn into Durbhagya (bad fate)," said Singh.