New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has achieved considerable success in the execution of marque schemes targeting rural India in its four years in office.
The key initiatives to its rural outreach programme were to provide free cooking gas connections and electrification of rural households, besides creating a social safety net for the masses.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) and Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or the Saubhagya scheme, are all part of this initiative to empower rural India.
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government will look to reap political dividends out of the success stories when it presents its report card before the nation.
Under the Ujjwala scheme, the centre provided free cooking gas connections to 30.98 million poor families, as on 23 May. The rural electrification programme has also been a game changer with the government beating the deadline to provide electricity to all of India’s 597,464 census villages last month.
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The Ujjwala scheme, which was said to have contributed to the BJP’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in March 2017, has now expanded its ambit to include 80 million poor families as the countdown to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections begin.
Experts say the initiative was “a social movement to improve women’s health by giving them freedom from sooty kitchens and hazards of collecting firewood".
Consulting firm Deloitte, in its April report titled The Evolving Energy Landscape in India, said: “From 25.5% in 2005 to almost 80% Indian households have access to clean energy today."
However concerns remain. “The rural economy has been riddled with challenges including slower agricultural growth, poor farm price realisation, slowdown in construction activity, and sluggish rural wage growth. An unhappy hinterland can turn out to be the proverbial Achilles’ heel for any government during elections," Crisil wrote in a 24 May report.
The NDA’s strategy to leverage the success of its most popular schemes, along with Swachh Bharat Mission, or clean India campaign, have already enabled it to make deep political inroads into India’s semi-urban and rural landscape.
The next set of targets have also been drawn up. Given that a village is declared electrified if 10% households have access to power, besides public institutions, household electrification remains the final frontier.
To resolve this critical issue, the government has launched the Saubhagya scheme on 25 September 2017 to provide electricity connections to more than 40 million families in rural and urban areas by March 2019, and help achieve universal electricity access. Of this 6,090,150 households (as on 23 May) have been electrified. Power minister Raj Kumar Singh on his part is confident that all Indian homes will have electricity connection by December 2018.
“Energy, today, is considered crucial to achieve India’s development ambitions, to support an expanding economy, to bring electricity to rural areas, to fuel the demand for greater mobility and to develop the infrastructure needed to meet the demands of what is soon expected to be the world’s most populous country," added the Deloitte report.
The Saubhagya scheme will also help provide the architecture, through which the government seeks to reduce import of fossil fuels. It will also help promote induction cooking, and heating and charging electric vehicles, apart from the initial target of providing lighting.