Given that, just last year, the then power minister Piyush Goyal had talked of a 100% electrification target by May 2017, it is not surprising that many are mocking the government for its new target of December 2018 to provide electricity to all houses in the country. That, though, is easily explained. Under the definition of an electrified village, it is enough to take a power line to the village, but not essential to connect each house to the grid—while Goyal’s target related to the former, prime minister Narendra Modi’s Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) is about the latter. While it has to be a matter of national shame that four crore of India’s 25 crore households still do not have electricity 70 years after Independence, Saubhagya is a logical culmination of government policy, over the decades, to extend electrification and has, undoubtedly, got a fillip from the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana that was launched in July 2015 to expedite the electrification of villages—once this is done, it is relatively easy to link individual houses.
Where Saubhagya differs from earlier schemes and, to that extent, is similar to the Ujjwala scheme for LPG is that, after the initial subsidy to provide electricity connections, families will have to pay for the usage of electricity. While the rate will be subsidised, inculcating a paying habit is not just good, the poor don’t even mind paying since electricity from the grid is the cheapest fuel possible. Over the long term, of course, the success of the scheme depends upon the success of UDAY which is aimed at making electricity boards viable over the next few years—if SEBs are not viable, they cannot buy enough power, as a result of which 24×7 electricity to 25 crore households in the country will remain a pipe dream. For now, the scheme is another one of PM Modi’s that are aimed at the poor. From Jan-Dhan to various insurance schemes and direct benefits transfer, they are all aimed at inclusion in a meaningful manner—lack of health facilities or proper water/sanitation and unavailability of cooking gas/electricity, in fact, mean the poor end up paying a much higher cost than the better off in the country.