This article is being typed on a laptop, under a tubelight and whirring fan. It will probably be read on a personal computer, phone, or similar viewing screen, all of which run on battery and need to be charged from time to time. Why are such inane statements being made, you ask? Well, that’s because it is being written about the electrification of Amdeli, a Telugu-speaking village located in Gadchiroli district at the border of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, for the first time since Independence. It is almost impossible to imagine the kind of surprised joy someone living in the district might be experiencing, but what we can fathom is the unimaginable shock at the question- ‘Are places in India still electrified?’ This feeling is a beautiful tragedy, a happy travesty. It points towards the gap between privileged, relatively successful, apathetic India, and marginalized, usually forgotten (remembered only during election time) and desperate Bharat. The Indians believe in hopeful statistics that paint an optimistic achievement-based picture of how the Bhartiyas are being treated. The Bhartiyas, on the other hand, don’t know what to believe. They continue to trust the promises of poll time and survive somehow, because the pipe dreams of a better future lure them and keep them in the vicious cycle of exploitation. These generalizations are debatable, but they carry kernels of truth, as will be explained below.
The label of ‘electrification’ essentially means that all the public buildings of the site (village, town, city) and 10% of houses have electricity. It is to be distinguished from ‘intensive electrification’ which implies 100% electricity supply for all the inhabitants of an area. The World Bank’s 2017 State of Electricty Access Report reveals that India has the largest ‘energy access deficit in terms of electricity’, with 270 million people forced to go without it. India accounts for one-third of the world’s electricity access deficit. On the other hand, government statistics claim that 98.7% of the villages of the country have been electrified. The discrepancy between these two figures is jarring, indicating the differences in explaining away the existence of about 20% of a country’s population in darkness. Many of the ‘electrified’ villages have no electricity infrastructure (Haldu Khata, Uttar Pradesh), some are uninhabited forest land, some are un-electrified (Dimtala, Assam), some have only a few electrified households (about 50% households are still un-electrified in states like Jharkhand), the quality of electricity supplied is poor, unreliable and inconsistent (IndiaSpend Data, October 2015) and so on.
An official rationalizes these problems by using the typical method of shifting blame, “Rural electrification is a concurrent subject and prime responsibility lies with states. In order to boost rural electrification (villages as well as households) government of India facilitates the state government. However, achievement in the electrification of households is also dependent on the policies of the state government, willingness of the state government, toughness of the geographical area, LWE (left wing extremism) affected area, forest area etc.” When some of the villagers belonging to a recently electrified village were asked why they got electricity only after so many years, they claimed that theirs is a small village of only about 200 people. So, the government prioritized bigger villages with larger populations by granting them electricity before them. This logic has been rejected by Power official M.K. Verma as ludicrous, “The speed of electrification depends on the demand and supply situation. There is no such thing as giving importance to some villages, and neglecting others. Electrification is an ongoing process.” But, is the village-people’s understanding less valid? Simply because they are fewer in number and consequently less important statistically, they have been allowed electricity only in the recent years. In this sense, who decides which group, community or individual is more important than another? This emphasizes the incongruity within Bharat itself.
It is perfectly fine to state that the government is doing a commendable job by electrifying these villages to achieve the target set for 2018, that is, about 100% electrification like the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. However, should this be read as an achievement, or as a primary responsibility? The democratically elected government is accountable to the people for its services rendered for them, with electricity, water supply, roads, immunization and vaccination, housing, cleanliness, food security, safety, education etc. as the basic rights it must ensure to all citizens. It must safeguard our right to a life of dignity and personal liberty; otherwise, it fails its own Constitution. Then, why should this be seen as something remarkable, something done beyond the bounds of its ability and need? Providing us electricity is not a gift it is giving us, we elected it to ensure this for us. It should be read as an exchange of services.
One can only hope that it delivers well on further ‘promises’ so that India and Bharat can finally become one.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: chalmers.se