The opposition has increasingly questioned the government’s record in rural electrification and alleged frequent shifting of goalposts. For example, the deadline for electrifying all villages now stands at May 2018, after missing the May 2017 target. While available data shows that the Narendra Modi government has indeed made progress in electrification of households, doubts remain over the quality of the data.
The Congress party in a recent tweet claimed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had failed to make much progress on village electrification even though the bulk of the work had been completed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
However, the criticism seems a bit misplaced. While the UPA government had electrified a much higher number of villages, not all households in those villages were electrified. Therefore, the focus in recent years has rightly shifted from simply electrification of villages to “intensive" electrification.
A village is considered electrified if at least 10% of its households are electrified, among other conditions. Intensive electrification, on the other hand, refers to deepening the electricity infrastructure to provide access to the remaining un-electrified houses.
Data from the Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (REC), which is the nodal agency executing the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), shows considerable progress in intensive electrification under the current government.
The DDUGJY website shows that 99.8% of census villages have been electrified till date while “intensive electrification" has been completed in around 80% of villages.
However, detailed official data on the number of households electrified throws up doubts about the quality of these statistics.
The DDUGJY website currently provides state-wise data as of 31 December 2017, while the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) website provides daily updated numbers. Mint’s analysis of reports for February, August, September, October and November shows frequent monthly changes in the total number of rural households in a state. This affects the calculated metric of “percentage of rural households with electricity". To illustrate, consider the five states that reported the biggest rise in the rural household electrification rate between February 2017 and December 2017 as per DDUGJY reports. Four of these states reported a decline in the total number of households. Thus, part of the increase in electrification rate is due to re-estimation of the number of households.
The total number of rural households fluctuates because state electricity distribution companies (discoms) periodically update the numbers. “In consultation with state power utilities and keeping Census 2011 data as base, household electrification data has been captured in GARV web portal and the same is being updated periodically by the power utilities…when data is revalidated by the discoms the number of total households and electrified households keep varying and remain dynamic," a person with direct knowledge of the matter said. GARV is the power ministry’s Grameen Vidyutikaran dashboard.
“The data is directly fed by the discoms and there appears no provision for validation. Especially in remote villages, the reliability of the survey data is questionable without any quality validation. There are cases when the data is found to widely vary with the ground situation," said Debajit Palit, senior fellow, TERI.
For instance, the Saubhagya data for a village called Rawan in Chhattisgarh shows the total number of households as 883, while Census 2011 data has a figure of only 81. As per Palit, the village currently has around 95 households according to the sarpanch.
Not only are estimates of total households suspect, doubts also remain over the reported number of electrified households. A Hindustan Times report had found glaring disparities on the ground.
Besides, simply ensuring electricity connectivity is only half the work done. The DDUGJY website shows that only six states had 24-hour power supply in rural areas in December 2017. Of course, responsibility also lies with states to ensure adequate power supply.
While progress is being made on the rural electrification front, proper accountability and monitoring is critical if the government is to set a date for achieving universal electrification.