Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity Survey of States (ACCESS) report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), has highlighted the gap between a connection and reliable power supply.
Electricity is under the concurrent list. Under the Electricity Act, 2003, the central and state governments have the joint responsibility of providing electricity to rural areas. The 2003 Act also mandates that the central government should, in consultation with the state governments, provide for a national policy on
- stand-alone power systems for rural areas (systems that are not connected to the electricity grid), and
- electrification and local distribution in rural areas.
Consequently, various electrification scheme was launched
- Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), launched in 2005
- Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), launched in 2014
These schemes considered a village electrified even if 10% of its households had access to power and leave many households un-electrified despite the 100 per cent rural electrification claim. This had necessitated introduction of a saubhagya scheme focusing on universal household electrification.
- The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or Saubhagya Scheme was launched in September 2017 with the aim to achieve universal household electrification by providing last mile connectivity and electricity connections to all households in rural and urban India.
- The Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (REC) is the nodal agency for the operationalization of the scheme throughout India
- The scheme covers both urban and rural households. Under it, free electricity connections are provided to below poverty line (BPL) households, while other households have to pay ₹500 for the connection.
Benefits of schemes
- Electricity connection for each household: The scheme envisages electricity connection for each household by drawing a service cable from the nearest electricity pole to the home, installing an energy meter, and wiring for a single light point with an LED bulb and a mobile charging point.
ACCESS 2018 found that around 80 per cent of rural households in six surveyed states depend on grid electricity and solar home systems and/or solar lanterns for their primary lighting needs, up from 44 per cent in 2015
- Rationalise subsidy: Saubhagya does not envisage any subsidy for electricity consumption. That is, consumers will have to pay the bill as per their utilisation.
- Substitute to kerosene: By substituting kerosene use in rural areas it would save import expenditure
- Benefit power discom companies: Power distribution may be able to recover some of their costs through the new household connections and added demand.
- Improve quality of life: Electrification has direct positive impact on the quality of all aspects of daily life, especially to the women and children. Significant improvement is expected in delivery of other essential services like health, communication etc.
Issues/ Challenges with the scheme
- Unreliable power supply: ACCESS report has highlighted the gap between a connection and reliable power supply. While the median hours of supply increased from 12 hours in 2015 to 16 hours a day in 2018, it is still far from the goal of 24×7.
- Low voltage: According to ACCESS report, while instances of low voltage and voltage surges have reduced in the last three years, about a quarter of rural households still report low voltage issues for at least five days in a month.
- Reduction in target household: When the scheme was launched, it has to provide electricity connections to 40 million Indian homes by March 2019. The target was reduced to 30 million rural and urban households after it was found that some households did not exist, or had already been electrified.
- Electricity Theft: For many poor households, the high recurring costs of electricity consumption provides an incentive to indulge in electricity theft.
- Poor financial health of Discoms: Discoms have been plagued by issues such as low collection, increase in power purchase cost, inadequate electricity tariff hike and subsidy disbursement, and increasing government department dues resulting in poor payment records.
Electricity is the driver for India’s development. The household electrification scheme, Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or Saubhagya, has been implemented at an unprecedented pace. More than 45,000 households were electrified every day over the last 18 months. But in order to achieve 24×7 power for all, we need to focus on few frontiers
- Firstly, India needs real-time monitoring of supply at the end-user level. Such granular monitoring can help track the evolving reality of electricity supply on the ground and guide discoms to act in areas with sub-optimal performance. Smart meters (that the government plans to roll out) should help enable such monitoring.
- Secondly, discoms need to focus on improving the quality of supply as well as maintenance services. Discoms need to identify novel cost-effective approaches to maintain infrastructure in far-flung areas.
- Thirdly, the improvement in supply should be complemented with a significant improvement in customer service, which includes billing, metering and collection. In rural areas, low consumer density along with difficult accessibility makes conventional approach of meter readers and payment collection centres unviable. Prepaid smart meters and last-mile rural franchisees could be implemented to improve customer service and revenue collection.