New Delhi: When the bulbs lit up in Leisang village in Manipur’s Senapati district at 5.30pm on Saturday, it became the last village in India to be linked to the national power grid.

With electricity now reaching all 597,464 census villages, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim of providing all Indian households access to electricity is a step closer to reality.

“Yesterday, we fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be transformed forever! I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity," Modi said in a tweet on Sunday. Mint had on Saturday first reported that all Indian villages had been provided access to electricity.

In his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2015, Modi had set a 1,000-day deadline to electrify villages that still did not have access to electricity.

While only around 1,500 villages were electrified at the time of India’s independence in 1947, the number reached 481,124 in 1991. According to government data, 63,955 villages were provided electricity access during the 10th plan period (2002-07) and 45,955 villages during the 11th plan period (2007-12). Of India’s 597,464 census villages, 579,012 villages, or 97%, were electrified by 31 March 2015.

There were 18,452 unelectrified census villages in 2015 before the government allocated Rs75,893 crore for the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana with the aim of providing electricity access to all villages. It was later found that another 1,275 villages also didn’t have access.

The task was challenging, given that the last of the unelectrified villages were in remote locations, in states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Moving men and material was difficult not only because of inhospitable terrain, but also because some villages in Chhattisgarh were located in areas affected by Maoist violence.

It was an uphill task, power secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said, adding that the Indian Air Force helped out by dropping material in some far-flung areas.

As of 28 April, all these villages had electricity access either through the national grid or off-grid solutions. Also, 1,236 villages are uninhabited and 35 have been notified as grazing reserves. The scheme will also help improve India’s per capita power consumption of around 1,200 kWh, among the lowest in the world.

The last village to be provided off-grid electricity access was Pakol in Churachandpur district of Manipur.

“The next step is to provide electricity connections under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya)," Bhalla said over the phone. A village is declared to be electrified if 10% of its households can access power along with public institutions such as schools, the panchayat office and health centres.

Experts said the Saubhagya scheme holds the key to universal electricity access by providing connections to more than 40 million families in rural and urban areas by March 2019.

“This is indeed a historic moment in the seven decades of socioeconomic journey of this nation," said Debasish Mishra, partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in India. “Now this momentum must be maintained to make Saubhagya scheme successful, to make reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity available to every household in the country."

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