April 04, 2005

Two seconds, please

Question: do you believe the government of India can, or will, provide electricity to one rural home in India every two seconds over the next five years? Yes, one rural home electrified every two seconds, 1800 every hour, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, for five years. Possible? Do you believe any government, or any other body, or anyone, can do this?

My answer is a sceptical snort. I shall presume that yours is similar.

Nevertheless, there must be people who either believe this or think that they can say so and others will believe it. Because there's a full page advertisement from the Ministry of Power in today's Times of India (April 4). It is titled "Empowering Rural India", and it announces the launch of the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (Rural Electrification Programme). There's a picture of that man Rajiv Gandhi. There's also this inspiring quote from him: "Electricity is what generates employment." (I believe I shall put that up there with "Ask not what your country can do for you.")

Quotes aside. The ad tells me that this scheme will "provide access to electricity to all households" in five years.

A fine goal, right? Is it a novel one you've never heard before? ... OK, I won't stretch it.

But how many households in India need such access anyway? I look around me at people like me here in Bombay, living in flats like mine, electricity available to them all through the day; I look around at the lights of this city, the hoardings, the hotels, the floodlit stadiums, the elegant lamps in the nearby park by whose light my friend Ameya jogs in training for next year's marathon; I look around at all this and I say to myself, come on, there really can't be too many households in this country that don't have electricity. A few thousand, maybe a few hundred thousand? Oh sure, five years is enough to get them electrified. And I slip "The Shawshank Redemption" into the DVD player and forget about households and five-year promises.

But then I remember the mistake I made last week, when I looked at a little table in The Vijay Times in Bangalore. "Rural Households Without Electricity Statewise", it is titled. It takes its data from the 2001 Census; and you can find the germane data here.

The important thing to note: 56.48 per cent of India's rural households -- 78,090,874 homes in which people live -- are without electricity. Yes, this is an at least four-year-old figure; but it is unlikely to have changed substantially. Yes, it is skewed by the pitiful state of such states as UP (80.16 per cent), Orissa (80.65), Jharkhand (90.01) and Bihar (94.87 -- these statewise figures from the Vijay Times table); but that doesn't take away from the magnitude of the task the new Rajiv Gandhi programme has set for itself.

This magnitude: 78 million homes to be electrified in 5 years. Do the arithmetic yourself. One every two seconds. Save the snort, I think I heard it already.


wise donkey said...

Perhaps that was their April Fool Joke, delayed by few days ???

Perhaps at the end their term, Election Commission should calculate the cost of these ads and if they are unfulfilled ads, the money should be debited to the party, that will perhaps make them think twice b4 using Our money for stupid ads.

or will they just include a * in the ad and say in small print, other terms and conditions apply?

Anurag said...

There are two possibilities, Dilip:

i) They actually meant rural electrocution programme. Easier. More than one household every two seconds is possible.

ii) They mention access to electricity in five years, not an electric connection. Maybe they will enhance the train network so people can easily come to Mumbai and access the electricity there. Pune is out of question -- we have three hours of cut everyday.

wise donkey said...

or perhaps a policy that no ads should be taken for tasks/targets yet to be achieved.

if at all an ad, after target achieved.
what exactly is the point of promos like this???

Vikrum said...

Dilip, thanks for bringing up such an important topic.

I was recently in a Bandra bar talking with an Indian man of relative means. He was saying that India unfairly gets a bad rap because the amenities here are "basically as good as any place in the First World."

I said, "I'm not so sure. Let's take something basic like electricity. I don't think that most families' homes are electrified."

He said, "We ocassionally have power outages in Bombay but we generally have steady electricity."

My response: "What about the rural areas. I don't think the poorer states and the rural areas have steady electricity, if they are electrified at all."

The response: "Oh yeah."

A question for anyone that knows the answer: Has the Indian government ever seriously considered using nuclear power for electricity production?

Anonymous said...

Dilip asks a pertinent question on whether ANYBODY can achieve the monumental task of providing electricity to about 100,000 villages that are still without electricity in the next five years. An honest answer would be NO, but the magnitude of the challenge should not prevent us from taking up a concerted action on the issue. Should we not be asking what can we do to make it happen by 2015 or 2020 if it is not possible by 2010?
Vikram, Nuclear Power is likely to expand in India, but nearly not enough to keep up with more than a quarter of the increase in demand in the next twenty years.
Nasi, restructuring electricity sector, specially the state electricity boards, is on of the biggest challenges facing India in the energy sector. Several wasteful practices, subsidies on electricity consumption in agricultural sector for example, may need to be stopped or reduced.
This is not going to be an easy task politically, economically, or technologically, but a cynical response is not going to get us anywhere.