Major efforts still needed to provide electricity to rural Indian households

India has about 640,000 villages. According to the Indian government, only 18,500 villages are not yet electrified. In other words, 97% of the villages are electrified. In at least nine States, all the villages are electrified. The Indian government aims to have 100% village electrification by March 2017. About 3,500 villages will be electrified by off-grid schemes.

But, electrifying a village does not mean that all households are electrified. If ten percent of the households are electrified, and a building such as a school or an office is electrified, then the village is defined as electrified.

In India as a whole, about 70% of all households have electricity connections. Since rural India lags behind cities, the proportion in the rural areas is lower. However, I could not find any report of what is the proportion in the rural areas. So, here’s my step-by-step estimate:

1. Start with 100 households in India. Since the share of rural population today is about 69%, we can say that there are about 65 households in rural India. (Number of people in a rural household are more than in an urban household).

2. If 100*% of the 30% non-electrified households were in the rural areas, then 30 of the 85 households in rural India would be un-electrified. We can write as 30/65 = 46% of rural households.

3. A World Bank report found: India’s population without electricity is still both large and poor. Of the 311 million people without electricity, about 93 percent live in rural areas. So, instead of 30 rural households without electricity, we have 39*0.93 = 28 rural households without electricity.

4. So, the proportion of rural household without electricity is 28/65 = 43%. Or, the rural household electrification rate is 100–43 = 57%. Approximately, of course.

So, we have nearly 100% village electrification, but only about 60% of rural households are electrified.

That’s still a long way to go.

There’s another problem. Whenever there is a power shortage, villages are the first to be cut. I was in Jaipur in January 2016. Jaipur had no power cuts, but many villages in Rajasthan had no electricity for several days. In September 2015, the Times of India reported that Bengaluru would have power cuts of three hours a day. What about villages? “For rural mixed feeders, five hours of three-phase supply and nine hours of single- phase supply has been arranged.”

At such times, even when power is supplied, the voltage in the villages is often much less than the stated 220 volts.

Lastly, there is not much incentive for the power companies to connect more rural households. These companies are suffering from losses and debts, and the Indian government has been forced to bail them out. But, connecting an additional rural household means incurring an additional loss because the electricity price does not cover the cost of supplying electricity to most rural households.

The conclusion is that while all of India’s villages will soon be electrified, too many rural households will continue to be without reliable electricity.

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