• Electricity And Elections In India

    Prime Minister Modi’s ‘if electricity is supplied during Ramzan, it should also be supplied during Diwali’ remark during the Fatehpur rally in Uttar Pradesh received considerable flak from all sections of society, for its communal undertones.

    While of course the PM’s remarks are surprising, but what is unfortunately most amusing is how long ‘providing electricity’ has been on the agenda of political parties – for State and General elections. For a country aspiring to be amongst other developed nations in the world, it is ironic that in so many years since independence, government after government has failed to keep up its promise of providing electricity.

    Having grown up in a house where elections have always been closely followed and newspapers religiously read, I have during every State and General election heard contestants talk about providing electricity. Two decades later, it’s 2017 and parties are still promising the people of their constituencies the same. Not just local MLAs, but electricity is what even Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister of the country are making promises of in their campaign rallies and speeches.

    Electricity is a development indicator and critical for India’s economic growth. It is estimated that 7 per cent of the GDP is lost due power cuts, thus it is imperative that to keep the momentum of growth going, the country have uninterrupted power supply.

    Of the 1.4 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity, India accounts for over 300 million. It is the world’s third largest producer and fourth largest consumer of electricity. Despite poor hydro electricity generation, in 2015, India became a power surplus nation with huge electric power generation capacity, but despite that the country uses only half of what it generates.

    The provision of electricity is shared responsibility between the central and state governments, with states having considerable freedom to set electricity prices, the average subsidy level and the beneficiaries of the cross-subsidisation. Political parties in the past and for the ongoing State elections have been promising 24 hours of electricity supply in their respective constituencies.

    PM Modi during his campaign rallies for the 2014 General elections claimed that if elected, he would ensure ‘power for all.’ It was also in this year that the World Bank ranked India as having the world’s largest un – electrified population. While the present government has made some progress towards fulfilling its promise for ‘power for all’, India’s most marginalised citizens still have no access power.

    At present, 30 per cent of villages are yet to be electrified, with sharp variation across the country. Less than half of the rural households in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nagaland and Jharkhand receive electricity; while Uttar Pradesh, in comparison to Bihar has more electrified rural households. In other big states such as Maharashtra and Rajasthan almost 75 per cent of rural households have electricity. Part of the explanation for this disparity among states is the varying income levels and population density; with low-income, densely-inhabited states performing worse than average.

    The AAP’s manifesto for the Punjab Elections too carries promises of cheaper electricity, in the State. While in UP, the SP seeking re-election has promised 24 hours of power supply to domestic consumers in urban and rural settings. There has also been news of the JD (U) planning to contest in the upcoming municipal elections in Delhi, with the hope of cornering AAP on the issue of electricity among others.

    From the manifestos of the various parties and the points raised during campaign rallies, it is evident how fundamental electricity is to the campaign rhetoric, as well as how it used to garner votes. Thus it is worth pondering upon why despite being a power surplus nation, large parts of the country are yet to be electrified.

    For over two decades, political parties in India have continued their vote bank politics over electricity, which is not just hitting the common man, but also hampering the GDP of the country. It is also important to note that not just false promises, but also infrastructural deficiencies such as poor metering, inefficient billing and collection, inadequate investment, high transmission and distribution losses and regular power outages are also contributing factors to why several parts of the country remain un-electrified. Theses infrastructural deficiencies are also a key weakness for the country’s energy sector.

    The World Energy Outlook Special Report (2015) concluded that ‘India’s ties with the international energy systems are set to deepen, intensifying India’s dependence and influence on international markets, through trade, investment, clean technology cooperation and other channels.’ However, these energy systems which are ‘set to deepen’ do not seem to improve within the country. Thus the question arises of whether energy systems in India are incapable of providing electricity for all its systems or is it the lack of political will which hampers the electrification of the entire country.

    Union Minister of State for Power, Piyush Goyal following the 2017 budget proudly claimed that India has become a ‘power surplus’ nation, despite 30% of rural households remaining un – electrified. It now remains to be seen whether the Narendra Modi led government will fulfil its promise of ‘power for all’ before the 2019 general elections or if electricity for all will continue to remain only an ‘election campaign’ for another two decades. Jaromir Jagr Jersey

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