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The Social Realities of India’s Electrification, in One Map

‘A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now, that’s a question.’
Neil GaimanStardust

How would the world look if watched from the night sky?

The development of satellite imaging technology has made this question less rhetorical over time. Ironically, it’s increasing light pollution – higher electrification and poorly designed artificial lighting (throwing lights upward rather than down) – that has made stars less visible from cities. The more visible we are from the night sky, it seems, the less visible it is to us.

Looking at Earth from above can bring out a whole set of stories. A social history of India, specifically on the segmentation and differentiation in access to public goods, is coming from an unlikely source: satellite images of the country taken at night.

In an ongoing project to track night lights, and electrification through this, in Indian rural areas, researchers at the University of Michigan have processed 20 years (1993-2013) of combined satellite data from space agencies around the world. The India Lights project has now released its findings, consisting of a massive 4.4 billion data points across 600,000 Indian villages. In order to make this data publicly accessible, they have also created a fascinating interactive map that helps track the evolution of electrification over this time span.

A screengrab of the India Lights visualisation.

A screengrab of the India Lights visualisation.

The website also provides interesting tools for policy analysis. For instance, you can isolate villages that were covered by the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), launched in 2005 and now subsumed under the Deendaya Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, and see how the patterns change (or don’t) in the following years. Of the 100,000 villages that came under this scheme, 47,000 can be followed on India Lights. You can also track the changes during the tenure of a specific government, such as the increase in light output in UP’s Hardoi district when an energy minister for the state was appointed from that district.

Comparing the data from this project to that of the government’s Central Electricity Authority is interesting as well, thanks in no small part also to the government’s rather broad definition of what counts as an “electrified village”, though it must be said that even this is a big step up from previous definitions. In addition to public buildings like schools, health centres and panchayat offices being electrified, a minimum of 10% of the households in the village should also have a connection. Even if you ignored this small number, the definition doesn’t account for the consistency of the electricity supply. Even if a village received only a couple hours of electricity a day for a few days in the year, it can be deemed electrified.

So, what ‘increasing electrification’ really means, and what segmentations come with it, can be gleaned from this map.

Madhya Pradesh has been hailed as a success story for rural electrification, with almost all of its villages officially electrified by 2010-11. According to the Government of India’s Central Electricity Authority, 97.2% of the villages in MP were electrified by the end of 2013. This map has a different story to tell, however. It has MP as one of the country’s lowest night light producers, with high intra-state variation. Unsurprisingly, brighter areas (i.e. more electrified villages) are in districts that have slightly higher urbanisation rates: Indore, Bhopal, Gwalior. Some of the darkest districts are those with a higher tribal population: Alirajpur, Dindori, Mandla, Anuppur. These very gradual increases have been completely in-line with pre-existing regional variations, even cementing them further. While the government in Madhya Pradesh may be close to reaching its stated village electrification targets, differentiation in terms of who has useful access to electricity is still rampant. Light output increase is substantially lower here than in several other states, such as (but not limited to) Kerala.

Screengrab from India Lights: Madhya Pradesh, 2013. Source:

Screengrab from India Lights: Madhya Pradesh, 2013. Source:

In fact, increase in night-light output has been highest in Punjab and Haryana in the last two decades. This is particularly noteworthy considering both states had supposedly achieved 100% rural electrification much before the first year of this dataset, 1993. The beginnings of Punjab’s rapid increase aligns with the state government’s Rs.140 crore grant in 2007 to provide uninterrupted power supply across the state. But 2011 saw a dip, partly due to heavy losses incurred by public sector undertakings, much of which was blamed on rural electrification subsidies.

#odisha " data-image-description="<p><a class="aligncenter zemanta-img" href="" target="_blank"><img class="zemanta-img-inserted zemanta-img-configured" title="POSCO" alt="POSCO" src="" width="300" height="98" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h1></h1> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";op=auth" target="_blank">Priya Ranjan Sahu</a>, <a class="zem_slink" title="Hindustan Times" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage">Hindustan Times</a>  Gobindpur, <a class="zem_slink" title="Odisha" href=",85.5&amp;spn=1.0,1.0&amp;q=20.15,85.5 (Odisha)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Odisha</a>, June 23, 2013</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div></div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div></div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div></div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div> <table width="217" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0"> <tbody> <tr> <td></td> <td></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div> <p>It’s been an eight-year-long uneven battle between betel <a class="zem_slink" title="Vine" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">vines</a> and a steel plant. And steel hasn’t won yet.</p> <p>For, eight villages in coastal Odisha’s Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga gram panchayats in Jagatsingpur district, about 150 km east of state capital <a class="zem_slink" title="Bhubaneswar" href=",85.84&amp;spn=0.1,0.1&amp;q=20.27,85.84 (Bhubaneswar)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Bhubaneswar</a>, have put up a stiff resistance against <a class="zem_slink" title="South Korea" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">South Korean</a> steel major <a class="zem_slink" title="POSCO" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage">Posco</a>’s proposed Rs.52,000-crore project.</p> <p>The reason: It will take away their traditional source of income — betel vines.</p> <p>Posco signed a deal with the state government for acquiring 4,004 acres (one acre=43,560 square feet) for the project. But the site of the project — backed by the single-largest foreign investment in <a class="zem_slink" title="India" href=",77.2083333333&amp;spn=10.0,10.0&amp;q=28.6133333333,77.2083333333 (India)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">India</a> — virtually has nothing except some prefabricated site offices in a hurriedly fenced-off piece of vacant land.</p> <p>The telltale signs of the battle are strewn everywhere in the area earmarked for the project — felled trees, destroyed betel vines and hostile villagers, who have been fighting with the state to protect their vines.</p> <p>Popular resistance and environmental clearance have made it difficult for the state to push through the 12-million-tonnes a year green-field project, which should have gone on stream by 2011.</p> <p>Of the 4,004 acres, about 3,000 acres is forestland. And more than 5,000 betel vines dot the sandy landscape in this forestland, each generating an average assured income of R20,000 a month.</p> <p>Two years ago, the administration had to suspend land acquisition after hundreds of women and children blocked the entry point to the vines near the Gobindpur-Nuagaon border in scorching summer.</p> <p>In February this year, the administration took a step forward by resuming the process in Gobindpur. Though the state considers dismantling about 300 betel vines in three months to be some success, the drive seems to have lost steam by the end of May.</p> <p>“They are coming like thieves in the wee hours and trying to dismantle vines before we wake up and protest. We have re-erected several vines dismantled by them,” said villager Tuna Baral.</p> <p>But the administration is being careful. “Land acquisition continues peacefully. We are trying to convince people to part with their vines and accept compensation,” SK Mallick, collector of <a class="zem_slink" title="Jagatsinghpur" href=",86.17&amp;spn=0.1,0.1&amp;q=20.27,86.17 (Jagatsinghpur)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Jagatsinghpur</a>, told HT.</p> <p>The project has split the village community, with a group called the United Action Committee (UAC) — having some influence in Nuagaon — supporting Posco. But that has not helped matters. Today, Nuagaon is a picture of despair, with villagers having exhausted their compensation and are left with no means to sustain themselves.</p> <p>Kabindra Rout, a betel farmer, said, “The administration dismantled my <a class="zem_slink" title="Betel" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">betel vine</a> in 2011 and I got a compensation of R2.28 lakh. But now I am jobless.”</p> <p>Many who earlier used to own betel vines and could employ others have now been reduced to daily wage-earners in the vines in Dhinkia, the stronghold of the anti-Posco movement, which the police have not been able to enter during the past eight years.</p> <p>On June 7, after meeting chief minister <a class="zem_slink" title="Naveen Patnaik" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage">Naveen Patnaik</a>, Posco India chairman and managing director Young-Won Yoon said, “We are hopeful the land will be handed over to us soon.”</p> <p>But ‘soon’ may prove to be far off — or even a delusion — as the 20,000-odd residents of the eight villages are showing no signs of retreating from their betel vines.</p> <div> <div id=":1et"><img alt="" src="" /></div> </div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h6 class="zemanta-related-title" style="font-size:1em;">Related articles</h6> <p>&nbsp;</p> <ul class="zemanta-article-ul"> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Odisha -Group clashes in Gobindapur over Posco</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">PRESS RELEASE – Fact Finding Report- Scrap Posco Project</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">‘Will fight POSCO till last breath’</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Tension mounts in Posco project area as villagers oppose work</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Green tribunal halts land acquisition for POSCO</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Stop cutting trees for Posco plant: tribunal</a> (</li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;</p> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-full wp-image-20071" src="" alt="Screengrab from India Lights: District-wise light output time series. Source:" width="753" height="204" />

Screengrab from India Lights: District-wise light output time series. Source:

Jharkhand is another interesting case to look at. The state has claimed an extremely high rate of rural electrification with 93% of villages being electrified in 2015, up more than 50% from the early 2000s. The map shows some increase in night-light output from the state but a more gradual climb, with an increased pace, only in 2013. Before that, much of the increase in light output came from the districts of Ramgarh (corroborated by local news) and Dhanbad (which is urbanising faster relative to the restof the state). The Ministry of Power is continuing its rural electrification drive in Jharkhand, though as this map reveals this doesn’t mean access to electricity is increasing at a similar pace.

#sedition walk free #goodnews" data-image-description="<h1><span style="line-height:1.714285714;font-size:1rem;">SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu, Raipur  June 28,2013</span></h1> <div id="article-block"> <div> <div></div> <div> <h2>Advocate from central <a class="zem_slink" title="Chhattisgarh" href=",81.6&amp;spn=1.0,1.0&amp;q=21.27,81.6 (Chhattisgarh)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Chhattisgarh</a> has been slapped with the same charges that of her clients</h2> </div> <p>Rarely in judicial history has an advocate been slapped with the same charges as that of her clients. But such was the case of <a class="zem_slink" title="Rekha" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Rekha</a> Parghaniya – a lawyer and a human rights activist from central Chhattisgarh. She was arrested and charged with sedition and put in the same prison with her client, Rashmi Verma, a middle aged housewife arrested for “excit(ing) disaffection towards the Government.”</p> <p>Ms. Parghaniya was defending Ms. Verma and her husband Bhola Bag, a contractual worker, who was booked with sedition as well. All three of them were also charged under <a class="zem_slink" title="Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act</a>, 2005 (CSPSA) for allegedly abetting the outlawed <a class="zem_slink" title="Communist Party of India (Maoist)" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">CPI-Maoist</a>. They were acquitted by the district court of <a class="zem_slink" title="Durg" href=",81.28&amp;spn=0.1,0.1&amp;q=21.19,81.28 (Durg)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Durg</a> on Wednesday.</p> <p>Bhola Bag and Rashmi Verma were arrested on basis of a statement made by Sarita, an alleged Maoist cadre. She, in her statement to the <a class="zem_slink" title="Surguja district" href=",83.2&amp;spn=1.0,1.0&amp;q=23.1166666667,83.2 (Surguja%20district)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Sarguja</a> district police, allegedly claimed that she stayed with Mr. Bag and Ms. Verma while working for the underground party. The couple were arrested in February, 2009 and eventually charged under an 1860 Act of <a class="zem_slink" title="Indian Penal Code" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Indian Penal Code</a> (IPC) for “excit(ing) disaffection towards the Government” and Section 8/1, 8/3 and 8/5 of CSPSA, 2005 for helping an ‘unlawful organisation.’</p> <p>“What triggered the arrest of Ms. Parghaniya was the arrest of her husband in Kolkata,” said one of her lawyers, Sadiq Ali. Ms. Parghaniya’s husband, Deepak, was arrested in Kolkata earlier in 2012 for allegedly helping a unit of the <a class="zem_slink" title="Maoism" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Maoists</a> to manufacture small arms. Maoist Central Committee did acknowledge Mr. Parghaniya as one of their “comrades” in a release issued on March 2, 2012. “Ms. Parghaniya was arrested just for being the wife of Mr. Parghaniya whom she last met several years ago,” said Mr. Ali.</p> <p>A team of CPI (ML)’s women wing, AIPWA visited Ms. Parghaniya in Durg central jail and questioned the arrest. “…incriminating documents seized by the police from Rekha’s house include literature by Bhagat Singh, Marx, Engels and <a class="zem_slink" title="Bertolt Brecht" href="" target="_blank" rel="lastfm">Bertolt Brecht</a>, as well as some folders on the history of the workers’ movement,” said the AIPWA release. “The AIPWA team led by Lakshmi Krishnan was severely interrogated before they were allowed to talk to the women who were projected as big time Maoist guerrillas,” said State secretary of CPI (ML) Brajen Tiwari.</p> <p>The couple were implicated as Mr. Parghaniya, ostensibly, arranged for some contractual work for Bhola Bag in <a class="zem_slink" title="Bhilai Steel Plant" href=",81.3894305556&amp;spn=0.01,0.01&amp;q=21.1780777778,81.3894305556 (Bhilai%20Steel%20Plant)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Bhilai Steel Plant</a> before he left Durg. “Allegedly, they were consolidating the urban network of the Maoists,” said Mr. Ali. While all three were booked by police under same sections of IPC and CSPSA, Ms. Parghaniya was kept out of sedition when charges were finally framed. “Since the permission was not sought by police from home department before slapping 124/A,” said Mr Ali.</p> <p>The judgment said that the evidences were not sufficient to convict Mr. Bag and Ms. Verma. Ms. Parghaniya was acquitted as the two main witnesses were not present during the seizure, which was the important evidence against her. “Even the investigating officer said there were hardly any incriminating documents, other than few leftist magazines,” said Mr. Ali.</p> <p>Rekha Parghaniya walked free on Wednesday night and managed to win freedom for her clients as well.</p> <div id="articleKeywords"> <p>Keywords: <a href="">Rekha Parghaniya</a>, <a href="">Rashmi Verma</a>, <a href="">sedition charges</a>, <a href="">CPI-Maoist</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <h6 class="zemanta-related-title" style="font-size:1em;">Related articles</h6> <ul class="zemanta-article-ul"> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Soni Sori gets bail in one more case #Goodnews #Vaw</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Chhattisgarh – Letter to NHRC on the denial of rights to political prisoners at Raipur Central Jail</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">#India – The Naxal, the Tribal, and the Doctor</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">India’s Maoist Insurgency Grinds On</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">The Naxal, the Tribal, and the Doctor</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Chhattisgarh- No Maoists were present when forces opened fire, say villagers</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Press Release- AID Condemns the Violent Attack in Chhattisgarh</a> (</li> </ul> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-full wp-image-20074" src="" alt="Screengrab from India Lights: District-wise light output in Jharkhand, with focus on Dhanbad. Source:" width="753" height="459" />

Screengrab from India Lights: District-wise light output in Jharkhand, with focus on Dhanbad. Source:

Many of the social realities about actual electricity access can emerge from this dataset – but will governments choose to accept them?

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