The Centre claims to be fulfilling the Prime Minister’s plan for full rural electrification. But a close check of its own real-time data shows that the gap between official claims and ground reality is stark

Haldu Khata, a village in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the 7,008 villages that the government claims to have “electrified” in the last year, under the Modi government’s flagship scheme of rural electrification, Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. However, according to the government’s own field engineers, there is no electrical infrastructure in the village. Similarly, Dimatala in Assam, Kadam Jheriya in Chhattisgarh, Buknari in Bihar and Sunwara in Madhya Pradesh are misclassified as electrified villages in government books. These are not exceptional cases. The Hindu’s analysis of rural electrification data shows that the number of villages said to be electrified in the last year is exaggerated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech of 2015, had announced that all remaining villages would be electrified within 1,000 days. As of April 1, 2015, according to government numbers, 18,452 Indian villages were still un-electrified. Note that a village is considered electrified if public places in the village and 10 per cent of its households have access to electricity.

To make the process transparent, real-time data on villages being electrified has been made available to the public through a mobile app and a Web dashboard called GARV. The platform was launched in October 2015. Alongside, 309 Gram Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs) were deployed by the government to monitor the electrification process and enter the data on the GARV application.

Discrepancies galore

One major source of discrepancy is regarding those villages where the GVA has noted that the village is un-electrified, yet it is counted as electrified on the app. The Hindu was able to spot over 30 such villages on the app after scanning through GVAs’ comments. When this discrepancy was pointed out, a senior official of the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), the nodal agency for rural electrification which functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Power, said: “We put a lot of emphasis on photos. If there is a pole and distribution line visible in the photos, we call it electrified.” This perhaps could be one of the reasons leading to the inflated number, as the presence of electrical infrastructure doesn’t automatically translate into electrification.

A GVA from Pagara Buzurg village in Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh told The Hindu that the contractor did set up power lines in the village but they were stolen before they could be charged, and now there is no electricity in the village. Neither does a conductor exist there. For Birni village in Giridih, Jharkhand, the GVA remarks: “Work not started. Village located in remote location. No roads to reach. Situated on mountains..naxalite affected area (sic).” Both villages are counted as electrified villages.

Conversations with GVAs reflect the gap between official data and ground realities. The Hindu found 342 villages where the status marked by the GVA was ‘e0’, which means un-electrified (‘ee’ and ‘en’ mean electrified). And yet, in the ‘overall’ category, all of these villages have been marked as electrified.

Further, as of March 10, 2016, for around 300 villages, the status said: “Village declared electrified by discom [power distribution company]. GVA yet to visit the village for verification.” This indicates that villages have been declared as electrified without waiting for the government’s own representative’s verification, rendering the monitoring system redundant. For many others, a pattern is observed where the date of electrification is way before the first visit made by GVA. And further, if the GVA marks it as un-electrified after visiting, the status is not updated from ‘electrified’ to ‘un-electrified’.

Another concern is that uninhabited villages have been marked as electrified. The villages Panalomali, Kusadangar, Patyetapali in Odisha and Sunwara in Madhya Pradesh — all counted as electrified villages — have no people residing there. Reading comments in the application, more such villages were found by The Hindu, such as Akbarpur in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh, which is a forest area.

Statistical jugglery

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget speech of 2016 said that the number of villages electrified in the last year was more than the combined number in the past three years. This claim may not be true, as The Hindu found that of the 7,000-plus villages said to be electrified last year, 3,604 villages were assigned the status, “Village found electrified during the survey.” This means that these villages were found electrified when GVAs first visited there. The REC official explained, “It is difficult to say when the work was done as the GVA visits started in October 2015. It could have happened after April 2015 (when the list of un-electrified villages was prepared in consultation with State governments), maybe two years ago or even earlier.” Conversations with GVAs and comments from the dashboard indicate that perhaps even the list of un-electrified villages was an overestimate. For instance, Changlang (Arunachal Pradesh) was electrified in 2001, Farbandhia Kahar (Assam) in 2012 and Mahdaili (Bihar) in 2013. But they were shown as un-electrified on the April 2015 list. It is also worth noting that work is ongoing even in villages declared as electrified; called “intensive electrification”, this aims to cover all households and not just 10 per cent.

A detailed questionnaire mailed to the REC on March 19 seeking its official response went unanswered.

The count of villages being electrified, ticking upward every day in the GARV application — extensively shared by Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal on social media and cited by Prime Minister Modi in his speeches — is thus not a guarantee that all villages being claimed as electrified are actually so.

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