The reality of rural electrification in India

While there has been progress in providing electricity to rural households, there have been no real efforts to improve the quality of power supply.This may force villagers to resort to Power Theft

Delivering electricity to nearly every village in India has been one of the most celebrated achievements of the Narendra Modi government. However, a study by Sreekumar Nhalur and others published in the latest Economic and Political Weekly suggests it may be too soon to celebrate.

The authors argue that while there has been progress in providing electricity connections to rural households, there have been no real efforts to improve the quality of power supply. Once a household is connected, consumers face several challenges to retain their connection and realize the benefits of electrification. The challenges include metering, billing and supply issues. In rural areas, power supply and billing without proper meters is commonplace. Rural households also face frequent supply cuts due to operation and maintenance issues of distribution networks.

The authors analyse several centre-led evaluations of such schemes and find that, while many key issues have been identified, no major efforts have been made to address them. Lack of affordable power also remains a major challenge, the authors say.

Many power regulators provide concessionary tariffs to consumers who are identified as Below Poverty Line (BPL). But poor consumers not identified as BPL are excluded from these benefits. For them, the authors call for additional subsidy support and rationalized tariffs. They also highlight the need to hold distribution companies accountable for power supply. These firms should monitor supply quality, operations and maintenance efforts in rural areas to ensure regular supply. The authors warn that if these issues go unaddressed, they could impede meaningful access to power, increase chances of networks being misused, and force consumers to resort to power theft.[Courtesy:Nikita Kwatra,Live Mint]

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