Power minister Piyush Goyal is quite right to blame the Uttar Pradesh government for the Nagla Fatela fiasco where, after the prime minister’s Independence Day speech talked of how it took 70 years for electricity to travel to a village that is just a 3-hour drive from Delhi
Power minister Piyush Goyal is quite right to blame the Uttar Pradesh government for the Nagla Fatela fiasco where, after the prime minister’s Independence Day speech talked of how it took 70 years for electricity to travel to a village that is just a 3-hour drive from Delhi, newspaper reports showed the village didn’t actually have electricity. While around a third of houses stole electricity from overhead lines meant for tubewells—amazingly, the state government was charging them for this!—none had got electricity under the scheme the PM spoke about, The Indian Express reported. But, as the power ministry showed, the UP government had classified Nagla Fatela as a zero-electricity village in 2013, and after money was sanctioned to set up transformers, the state utility certified that the village had been electrified in 2015. The power ministry’s GARV dashboard on rural electrification has pictures of the transformers and electric poles and even electricity meters in various houses in the village, along with the date on which each inspection took place and the mobile numbers and e-mail of the field engineers.
If, after this amazing level of transparency that the GARV app has brought, the village still doesn’t have electricity—the Express story quoted the village pradhan on this—you wonder what the actual situation is in the 10,057 other ‘electrified’ villages that the media did not visit. Or in the 6 lakh-plus villages that are supposed to be electrified, as per official data—even in the 10,058 villages that have been electrified in the last two years, GARV tells us, just 8% have electricity in all houses. While this incident only reinforces the need to be sceptical of all government data—how many of the two crore toilets that the prime minister told the nation had been built in the last two years are actually functional?—what is worrying is that the power ministry’s ambitious UDAY turnaround plan for state electricity distribution companies is based on data provided by the states themselves, of the type provided for Nagla Fatela. One of the key variables in the ambitious UDAY transformation is, for instance, the average ATC losses in the country falling to as low as 15% over three years. But, as FE reported, ATC data is quite dodgy. So, in the case of Haryana, while it was steady at 28% in FY12 and FY15, this suddenly rose to 35% in Q1FY16. The worst, however, was Uttar Pradesh which showed an amazing turnaround with ATC losses falling from 42% in FY12 to 29% in FY15, but then rising equally dramatically to 39% in Q1FY16. While fact-checking government claims is great for the media, it is impossible to govern a country when the authenticity of most data is suspect.