In-Depth Interview Of Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Power, Dr A K Verma
Rural electrification of villages is a flagship scheme of the union ministry of power to provide electricity to every home in this country. However, this scheme cannot ride on the Centre’s shoulders alone. With electricity being a concurrent subject, the respective state government’s also have to join in and take responsibility in ensuring that the initiative reaches its full potential.
Like many transparent e-platforms for almost every flagship scheme of the central government, the mobile app GARV (or the Grameen Vidyutikaran App that was launched in November 2015) gave every citizen of this country a platform to monitor the step by step progress over electrifications of villages across India.
So even as the GARV mobile app provided the much needed transparency in electrification of rural India, it has also brought along the criticism from states and previous government’s over the process of village electrification. It is known to all that when a strong initiative materialises, opposition is bound to feel threatened and therefore it was no shocker when the idea of transparent information dissemination generated criticism without ground and another round of blame game
To have an in-depth idea of how the Centre is going ahead with its rural electrification drive and how they aim to achieve what they strive for, Anupama Airy, Founder & Editor of EnergyInfraPost.com spoke to the Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Power, Dr A K Verma, who looks after the power distribution sector including the flagship schemes of the government including UDAY as also Electrification of Rural India.
Excerpts From The In-depth Interview With Dr A K Verma
Q: What is this controversy on the information being provided over electrification of villages on the GARV app?
A: It is a known fact that the subject of rural electrification specially in remote, hilly and difficult areas has been a challenging task. The remaining un-electrified villages are situated in difficult and remote locations. GARV app is a platform that disseminates all information related to rural electrification work being carried out. This app updates the information as provided by the states on electrification of village. States ensure the authenticity and correctness of the information. Imagine if the GARV app was not there. In its absence and had we not put the information in the public domain, this criticism would not have probably even surfaced. So firstly it requires courage to go to the people. Transparency is the key to effective administration. All of us whether the Centre or states, are answerable and accountable to the people of this country.
Q: Then why the confusion?
A: There is no confusion. The work and responsibilities are adequately distributed amongst the Centre and the states. You must appreciate that electricity is a concurrent subject and responsibility is shared amongst the Centre and states. It is the responsibility of every state government to provide last mile connectivity in terms of access to electricity and its distribution.
No DISCOM is owned by the Centre in any State and it is the states who have to distribute electricity. States also are required to maintain the infrastructure. The union power ministry provides financial support, helps in adopting technology and create conducive policy environment. If the Centre has sanctioned funds to put up infrastructure that includes transformers, poles and wires then it is for the state owned DISCOMs to run electricity through these wires and provide connections to households.
As DICSOMs are not in a good financial state, they are not investing enough in infrastructure or universal electrification or IT enablement of distribution network, so the Centre is helping them through various schemes. Centre is giving them grant, and hand holding them too. But implementation of works rests with states. Consumers will get connection and supply from DICSOMs, once they apply for connections to them. It is the job of a DISCOM or Power Department of State to energize a line and provide power to consumers. So there is no confusion.
But if states or DISCOMs are not doing their job they own the responsibility of lack of service. As I said earlier, the GARV app makes all information available before the public in a transparent manner. At the same time, it is the state government which is generating and sharing the information with us. So if they are sharing the wrong information, you know who is accountable. Transparency through these e-platforms is what has brought to fore a number of issues which otherwise were never talked about earlier.
Q: Are you saying that the states are providing wrong information when they seek funds from the Centre for electrification of a village.
A: As I said that it is the job of a state DISCOM to energize a line that will provide power to end consumers. It is their job to report that a particular village is electrified or not. Only when they declare that a village is getting electricity, we include it in the list of electrified villages. So unless they report, village is not included as electrified on the GARV app. The 18,452 un-electrified list of villages given to us last year is based out of the reporting by the states. Now with the work in progress, the updating of electrified villages is based out of the information provided by the states themselves. There are also cases where some infrastructure was laid for agriculture use and not meant for domestic supply but connections taken by households (katiya connections) and some fee is also being charged from the consumers. Now this is illegal and unsafe and can be termed as mis-governance. Simply put, if you are giving a meter then you have to give proper infrastructure. If states are not doing so, you cannot hold the Centre accountable for this. The rule today is that no consumer should be unmetered. If you are giving a meter, you have to give proper infrastructure. But having an infrastructure and not energizing it to provide connection to the people but rather allowing people to take unauthorized connections, nor meant for domestic use, is not correct.
Q: There have also been reports comparing the pace of village electrification in the UPA versus NDA regime? How do you react to them?
A: For any government, electrification of villages in remote, hilly and difficult areas pose an enormous challenge. However, village electrification has gained substantial pace over the past two years following a period of slowdown. It was to push the pace of electrification and quality improvement of power supply in rural areas that the Central Government launched the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) to ensure rapid electrification, feeder separation, and strengthening of rural distribution infrastructure. In November 2015, GARV mobile app was launched to transparently monitor the progress intensively for smooth and fast implementation of village electrification.
That’s not all. Young and passionate Grameen Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs or rural electrification engineers) were also deployed who shared reports through the GARV (Grameen Vidyutikaran) in order to put pressure on States/ implementing agencies for timely and quality delivery of power.
Q: Why are people not getting connections or are having connection but not getting power as lines are not energized by the DISCOMs?
A: This is because, today the financial state of DICSOMs is not all that sound and they are not finding it commercially beneficial. With theft and katiya connections being there, adequate bill generation is not happening. But once people are on a regular metered connection and are paying their bills, the health of the DISCOM will also improve. Simultaneously Government of India has brought schemes like UDAY to improve the financial and operational efficiencies of DISCOMs. So this vicious circle will get broken through various schemes that are underway and overall benefits will be visible.
Q: What as per you then what is the solution for carrying out smooth electrification in villages where states or DISCOMs cannot fool people?
A: Beneficiary is the best judge of service being provided. In a transparent administration people have a big role to play– the role of a watch dog. If people are aware that there is a scheme known as DDUGJY, which is meant for the electrification of their houses; one which is meant for the separation of feeders for the farmers to get assured agricultural supply; which is meant for creating infrastructure for the rural areas so that quality of supply is better and 24×7 power is available…so this awareness of the ongoing schemes, the expected outcomes is a sure thing. Things will only improve with this awareness.
Q: How would you sum up the progress of RE over the past two years.?
A: The past two years have been revolutionary in the area of rural electrification. Government of India launched a comprehensive scheme for rural areas ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana’ (DDUGJY) in Nov. 2014 after due consultation with all stake holders in a record time of 4 months from the announcement of scheme in July 2014 in budget for 2014-15. The clarion call of Hon’ble Prime Minister from the rampart of Red Fort on the 15th August 2015 for electrifying all remaining 18,452 villages within 1000 days infused new momentum in village electrification in the country.
The key initiatives taken up under the scheme to ensure electrification of all remaining villages within given time frame includes (i) Deployment of qualified engineers ‘Gram Vidyut Abhiyanta’ (GVA) at District / Block level (ii) 12 Stage milestones based monitoring with defined timelines (iii) Off-grid solutions for villages in difficult/far-flung/hilly areas and (iv) Regular review and monitoring by Ministry of Power. With these interventions, progress on village electrification has improved significantly as compared to yesteryears.
To ensure transparency and dissemination of information to public at large with regard to process and progress on electrification of these villages, a Mobile App (‘GARV’ – Grameen Vidyutikaran App) has been launched.
Besides village electrification, new projects with total outlay of Rs. 42392 Crore have sanctioned in 32 States / UTs covering other aspects of rural power distribution viz. feeder separation, system strengthening, access to households, metering, SAGY etc.
Q: How would you quantify the results so far as also give us a sense of the plans ahead.?
A: Out of remaining 18452 un-electrified villages (as on 01.04.2015), 10241 villages have been electrified up to 20.09.2016. During 2015-16, 7108 villages were electrified against the target of 5686 villages which was more than consolidated progress of previous three years. (2012-13: 2587, 2013-14: 1197, 2014-15: 1405). We intend to continue with this strategy for village electrification to ensure electrification of all remaining un-electrified villages within targeted time period focusing on rigorous field level monitoring and real time updating using IT tools. The next challenge is to ensure electricity access to all households in the country and also to bring in desired improvement in quality and reliability of power supply in rural areas through implementation of new projects sanctioned under DDUGJY.
Q: What are the quantum of funds spent under DDUGJY and how much more have been lined up?
A: The total outlay of the scheme is Rs. 75893 crore with budgetary support of Rs. 63027 crore from Government of India including the RE component projects subsumed in this scheme. RE component projects with total outlay of Rs. 32860 crore under various stages of implementation. Since April 2014, GOI funds of Rs. 9913.71 crore have been released by the Ministry of Power till date. New projects sanctioned under the scheme with total outlay of Rs. 42392 crore are under process of tendering and award by the concerned States and likely to hit the ground soon. Government of India is committed to provide financial support to the States as per the scheme based on progress of projects.
Q: Under the timeline set by the minister of March 31, 2017, we have to electrify all villages of which 507 are uninhabited while 7658 are yet to be electrified. How are you proceeding on this front?.
A: Out of 18452 un-electrified villages (as on 01.04.2015), 10241 villages have been electrified up to 20.09.2016 and 561 villages are reported as un-inhabited. Electrification of remaining 7650 villages is under progress in various stages. The target is to complete electrification of all villages by May 2018. However, efforts are being made to complete it earlier.
Q: Also the GARV app shows that only 849 or 8% of households in villages have 100% electricity. How do we improve this scenario?
A: Providing access to electricity to all households is our next target, not only in these 18452 villages but all villages in the country. Primarily, the State Distribution Companies (DISCOMs) are responsible for providing electricity access as well as to ensure adequate power supply with desired quality and reliability. However, keeping in view the financial health of DISCOMs and the quantum of investment required for rural electrification works, Government of India is providing financial support to the States for creation of infrastructure in rural areas for extending electricity access. The States are expected to provide last mile connectivity, release electricity connections to households and also ensure regular power supply.
Under DDUGJY, free electricity connections are also provided to the BPL households. The States have been advised to organize camps in rural areas to release electricity to APL households, so that benefit of the infrastructure being created under the scheme reaches to more & more households.
Q: Your views on the use of information technology in RE.
A: Monitoring of power supply in rural areas and ensuring continuous 24×7 Power is required as rural areas are the casualties in case of shutdowns and power cut regime found in several states. Ministry has initiated the feeder management and monitoring work extensively in collaboration with states and this activity would be using IT infrastructure. Similarly, IT infrastructure would add to strengthening of communication system to inform consumers and also quicker response in case of faults.
Currently, Writing a Book for Penguin India Titled Greased Pole:How Politics and Lobbying Stifled India’s Energy Dreams. The author can be reached on email@example.com (9810661825)