The Indian government made a major announcement on Sunday. With electricity reaching a remote village in Manipur, it claimed that all the villages in the country had been electrified. Everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his colleagues in the Union cabinet furiously tweeted congratulatory messages.
The minister for coal and railways, Piyush Goyal, who headed the power ministry for just over three years, went to the extent of claiming the government had eliminated darkness in the lives of Indian villagers.
Twitter users were quick to point out that the image Goyal had tweeted was misleading.
But even beyond the dubious image, the minister’s claim is only partially accurate.
Despite the government’s rural electrification data showing that electricity has reached all villages in India, that does not mean that all the households in these villages have come out of darkness.
In fact, according to the government’s own data, more than 30 million rural households or 17% of rural households in the country still do not have an electricity connection. In three states – Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Assam – more than 40% rural households are yet to be electrified. All the three states are currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
What explains the contradiction between rural electrification data and household electrification data?
The catch lies in the way the government defines rural electrification. A village is declared electrified even if merely 10% of its households have power connections. It does not matter whether they are actually being provided regular electricity supply. Even if a village has power connections in just 10 of 100 houses and does not get regular electricity supply, it would be considered electrified in the government records.
Facing criticism for this approach, the government announced the Saubhagya scheme in October l, which focused on the electrification of households. So far, the government has been able to electrify close to six million households under the scheme.
A big challenge
Rural electrification has been a challenge for most governments. When India gained Independence, only 1,500 of its villages were electrified. In the seven years between 2005-2012, during the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, 104,496 villages were electrified and connections were provided to 21.5 million households. Of these, 19 million households were provided free connections.
Since April 2015, the National Democratic Alliance government had electrified 19,679 villages.
Goyal had earlier announced that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government would achieve the target of electrification of all villages in the country by May 2017. The government’s achievement has come one year after the targeted deadline.