As the April 2019 deadline for household electrification under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) draws nearer, the government is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the targets are met. Recently, it announced awards for achieving 100 per cent household electrification at the discom/power department level. Under the award scheme, rewards worth Rs 1,005 million will be given to the winning discoms/power departments. The scheme essentially establishes a performance-based ecosystem for the discoms in order to meet the stringent deadline under Saubhagya. A look at the scheme’s progress so far, the award scheme and the key issues and concerns…
As per the award scheme, the first discom to achieve 100 per cent household electrification by November 30, 2018 will be provided a cash reward of Rs 5 million. From this amount, Rs 2 million will be given to the division of discom with the highest number of electrified households. In addition, Rs 1 billion will be provided to the discom/power department as a grant for distribution infrastructure development in their area of operation. Further, certificates of appreciation will be given to five officials of the concerned discom. Other discoms to achieve 100 per cent household electrification by December 31, 2018 will also be provided certificate of appreciation.
The award will be given in three categories. The first one will include discoms of special category states including the seven north-eastern states, Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand. The second category includes discoms of states other than special category states with more than 500,000 unelectrified households. These include Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telengana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The third category includes discoms of states other than special category states with less than 500,000 unelectrified households. Meanwhile, the eight states that achieved more than 99 per cent household electrification prior to the launch of Saubhagya will be excluded from the award scheme. These are Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
Progress so far
Under Saubhagya, discoms are providing free electricity connections to under-privileged consumers identified using the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 data. The unelectrified households not covered under the SECC data are also being provided electricity connections under the scheme on payment of Rs 500, which will be recovered by discoms in 10 instalments through the electricity bill. The electricity connections will be provided by drawing a service cable from the nearest electricity pole to the household premises, installing an energy meter, wiring a single light point with an LED bulb and a mobile charging point.
About 32 million households are to be electrified under the scheme. Since the launch of the scheme in September 2017, over 17.8 million households have been electrified, as of October 2018. The remaining 14.2 million households are to be electrified by April 2019.
Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of unelectrified households at 8.8 million, accounting for 62 per cent of the total unelectrified households across all states. It is followed by Assam at 1.18 million, Odisha at 943,918, Jharkhand at 747,536 and Rajasthan at 772,445. Clearly, there are a large number of households that need to be electrified in these states. Bihar, however, has done exceptionally well and has, reportedly, achieved the 100 per cent electrification target as of October 25, 2018. The state had the highest unelectrified households (3.2 million) next only to Uttar Pradesh at the onset of the scheme.
Some of the challenges facing discoms are unwillingness of households to avail of electricity connections, remote location of the unelectrified villages and lack of adequate manpower.
The way forward
Saubhagya’s implementation was a bit tardy in the initial months owing to preparatory works such as mobilisation of manpower and equipment. However, electrification efforts have caught up pace in recent months with nearly 100,000 households being electrified in a day as per the Ministry of Power. The ministry is fairly confident of reaching the targeted March 2019 deadline for 100 per cent electrification and with the launch of the award scheme, the target may even be met sooner, hopefully by December 2018. The award scheme is a praiseworthy initiative to acknowledge the efforts of employees and discoms engaged in the ambitious task of electrifying each and every household. That said, once electrification of all households is completed, the discoms will need to gear up for another set of challenges such as increasing aggregate technical and commercial losses in rural areas and the monthly meter reading, billing and collection from the newly electrified areas. Therefore, the discoms need to focus on capacity building initiatives going forward.