The Narendra Modi government ended 2018 with a powerful announcement. Against all seeming odds, 25 states had brought electricity connections to 100% of their households, the Ministry of Power said in a note released on December 31.
The note singled out Uttar Pradesh in particular, praising it for bringing electricity to all households under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana. The scheme, better known as Saubhagya, was launched by Modi in September 2017. It aims to extend electricity connections to all households in India.
On the face of it, Uttar Pradesh had pulled off a dramatic achievement. In April, the state had still to electrify 1.98 crore households. To meet the deadline of December 31, it would have to electrify 60,000 households per day. In late August, state officials were certain they would not be able to meet the deadline, as they were still 40% short of the target. But by December 31, the state had not only completed the target, it even received a Rs 1,500 crore bonus for it.
So what exactly happened?
A series of government documents reviewed by Scroll.in show the state may have simply shifted the goalpost.
Since April, the state consistently reduced its target for electrification from 1.98 crore households to 74.4 lakh households.
Saubhagya’s website has a dashboard with dynamic all-state data that is updated daily. The table shows the total number of unelectrified households in each state as of October 10, 2017, the number of households electrified since that date, and the number of households still left to be electrified after October 10, 2017.
Crucially, it is the target itself – of unelectrified households as of October 2017 – that kept reducing and not the households left to be electrified.
In April, states submitted estimates of households yet to be electrified to the Ministry of Power. Unlike older electricity schemes, Saubhagya promised electricity to all households, regardless of their income status. The submission by Uttar Pradesh government said 1.98 crore households in the state were unelectrified as of October 2017.
The following October, Alok Kumar, principal secretary of energy, Uttar Pradesh, informed the Centre that the state’s target had come down to 1.17 crore households, according to the minutes of a meeting held by the Centre to review the progress of Saubhagya. But in a meeting with the Centre in November, Kumar said the state had revised its estimate of total unelectrified households at the launch of the scheme to between 80 lakh and 85 lakh (or merely 40% to 43% of the original target).
The revised estimate not only contradicted what the state had said in its official submissions to the Centre so far, it also went against the other available data. In 2015-’16, Uttar Pradesh had conducted a survey of households with drinking water supply that also captured electrification data. According to this survey, there were around 1.12 crore unelectrified rural households and 0.15 crore unelectrified urban households in the state that were not targeted by any electrification schemes.
Disregarding the discrepancies, by the end of December, the Centre praised Uttar Pradesh for achieving 100% electrification by bringing electricity to 74.4 lakh households.
Questions were emailed to the Uttar Pradesh government’s spokesperson and the chief minister’s office. No response was received. This story will be updated if the state government responds.
Not just Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh is by no means an outlier. By April, all states had submitted targets for electrification under the Saubhagya scheme to the Centre. All states seem to have since revised their targets – by slashing them.
In absolute numbers, as of January, Bihar has reduced its target the most, from 1.6 crore households to 35 lakh households, which is a reduction of 1.28 crore households or 79%. According to the Saubhagya dashboard, Bihar too has achieved 100% electrification.
Haryana has reduced its targets by 81.5%, Karnataka by 76.39% and Andhra Pradesh by 72.83%.
It is not clear whether the target households have been reduced because they are eligible for electrification under other state-level schemes, whether the households do not exist, have merged, or represent people who have migrated and therefore cannot consent to electrification.
The joint secretary of the Ministry of Power and the director of the Saubhagya scheme did not respond to an emailed list of questions about this.
Case of Jharkhand
Jharkhand is the only state that provided an explanation to the Centre for how it reduced targets.
The original target for the state, as reported to the Centre at the beginning of April, was 31.6 lakh households. In mid-April, Jharkhand told the Centre that the number of households to be electrified could be reduced to 15 lakh to 16 lakh after reconciling Saubhagya data and surveys by the Department of Posts.
As Scroll.in reported in October 2017, the initial data for household electrification for several states came from the Socio-Economic Caste Census. In meetings in April, the Centre asked states to reconcile this data with fresh surveys conducted by their Departments of Post. States were asked to finalise their targets by May.
Jharkhand’s reduction in targets meant the Saubhagya website now shows the number of unelectrified households in the state as of October 2017 as 13.68 lakh households. Jharkhand claims that it has electrified 100% of its households.
In February, the business newspaper Mint had flagged that the original targets on the Saubhagya website were constantly changing, with “frequent monthly changes in the total number of rural households in a state”. “Thus, part of the increase in electrification rate is due to re-estimation of the number of households,” it said.
Until the launch of the Saubhagya scheme, rural electrification was done by the government under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, later renamed the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana, which offered free connections to below poverty line families. Once 10% of the households in a village were connected to the grid, a village was considered electrified under the scheme. This meant government data for village electrification did not reflect low household penetration, according to a report in the Economic and Political Weekly.
The Modi government claimed its Saubhagya scheme would change this. But to what extent it has achieved its targets is not clear, given the inconsistencies in the data.
In the same press note where it declared that 100% households in Uttar Pradesh had been electrified, the Ministry of Power also said: “Government of Uttar Pradesh has launched a special campaign in all parts of the State to identify any left out un-electrified households and to provide electricity connections to such households.”
The note added that the state had launched a special vehicle called “Saubhagya Rath” that will travel across all parts of the state so that those left out of the scheme can approach it for electricity connections. The note also mentioned a helpline that people can call to be included in the scheme.