He said cheap & abundant electricity can only be provided by a centralised system
By, Debjit Palit
On April 28, 2018, the PM announced the completion of electrification of all census villages. Given the geographical size and diverse terrain in India, this is a remarkable achievement. In its latest report, World Energy Outlook 2018, the International Energy Agency called India a “star performer” in terms of achieving the milestone of providing power to each village. Around half a billion people have gained access to electricity in India since early 2000s.
While villages were getting electrified during the last decade and a half, household electrification was lagging. The government launched the Saubhagya Scheme, or the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, in September 2017 to connect all non-electrified households by March 2019. It’s a first-of-its-kind scheme focusing on household electrification, regardless of economic status. It aims to cover 30 million households in rural areas, of which 20 million have been connected. Rural electrification got the impetus since the enactment of Electricity Act, 2003, by the NDA-1, which obligated both Centre and states to enable electricity access.
The vision and blueprint for electrifying the country was formulated by BR Ambedkar in early 1940s as the chairman of the Policy Committee on Public Works and Electric Power. It was established in September 1943 and, by February 1945, Dr Ambedkar and his team had studied the problems and opportunities for electricity development in India and pursued provinces and states to impart a national perspective to electricity development. His belief was that cheap and abundant electricity can only be provided through a centralised system to ensure success of industrialisation and bring about socio-economic development. In one of the meetings, he said: “…why do we want cheap and abundant electricity in India? The answer is that without cheap and abundant electricity no effort for the industrialisation of India can succeed … ask another question, why is industrialisation necessary? … we want industrialisation as the surest means to rescue the people from the eternal cycle of poverty in which they are caught.”
The issues before the committee were many, including whether electricity should be state or privately-owned, whether responsibility should be with the Centre or states, what would be the most efficacious method of administering it to provide cheap and abundant supply of electricity. While electricity was dominated by the private sector and followed a decentralised model during pre-Independence era, the committee decided the development of electricity supply in India should be actively pursued as a state enterprise using the best technology of the time. The Electricity Supply Act got enacted in 1948 and India started carrying out electrification according to the plan formulated by the Ambedkar committee.
During plan periods in the 1950s, there was focus on village electrification, primarily to support rural industries. But from mid-1960s to late-1980s, the focus shifted to pump-set energisation and not much progress could be achieved in electrifying villages and households. Rural electrification increased to only 6% in 1973, 30% in 1991 and 43% in 2001. Also, electric utilities were suffering from huge losses. With over half the population without electricity access in 2001, the government launched the Rural Electricity Supply Technology Mission to enhance electricity access in a targeted manner, using both grid and off-grid technologies. This was followed by major policy reforms with the passage of Electricity Act, 2003. It led to the launch of large-scale electrification effort in 2005 by the central government to create access to electricity for all households and provide free connections to all below poverty line households.
While India is almost on its path to achieve complete electrification, it has taken 75 years from the year Ambedkar formulated the plan to electrify India. Ambedkar is remembered more as the father of the Constitution, but his immense contribution to the economic infrastructure development plan of the country is no less remarkable.