Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - III (General Studies – II) - 26 October 2018


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-III: General Studies -II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Q. While the Governments’ claim of achieving 100 percent electrification of villages is significant, it is still largely symbolic, non-substantive in nature and not free from barriers. Examine. (250 words)

Model Answer:

Approach:

  • Why in news?
  • Significance of achievement
  • Achievement – symbolic, non-substantive and involves various challenges
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

After missing the initial deadline of May 2017, the Central government announced on April 29th, 2018 that the electrification of all inhabited villages in India (under ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojna’) has been completed with Union power minister R.K. Singh terming the electrification of last Indian village, Leisang in Manipur, as a “huge milestone” in rural connectivity.

Significance of achievement

  • Electricity improves quality of life, work, and just about everything else. It also powers the information superhighway which allows even remote villages to be mainstreamed; it is what economists call a force multiplier. Access to electricity drives the productivity of households, empowers women and enables education and communication. Therefore, the fact that all of India’s nearly 600,000 villages are electrified is an achievement worth celebrating.
  • While the task between 2015 and 28 April (when the milestone was achieved) involved connecting only around 20,000 villages, these were remote hamlets, far away from the national grid. All of these have now either been connected to the grid or electrified through off-grid solutions. The off-grid solutions are increasingly being recognised as more effective and economical ways to connect small, remote habitations.
  • It is a significant milestone in the country’s development and an achievement that will raise aspirations in the remotest districts.

Achievement – symbolic, non-substantive and involves various challenges

  • The existing definition to declare a village electrified is coverage of a mere 10% of households and common facilities such as schools, panchayats and health centres. This is why even though 100% electrification of villages has been achieved, government data shows that as of today, there are still 31 million households without electricity. The next step, as acknowledged by policy makers, therefore is to electrify all households in a village.
  • Hardest part of work – delivering uninterrupted power to every household – has yet to be done. The government launched Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) scheme last September to improve electrification coverage in rural areas as a move towards fulfilling its promise of 24-hour power supply to all households. It envisages providing free electricity to poor rural households. However in reality, electricity supply will be metred and bills will be generated for actual consumption. Evidence shows that villagers, who prefer paying a fixed amount for monthly electricity consumption rather than for actual consumption, are unlikely to take connections under the scheme. So, it is likely that the ambitious scheme will fail to find traction, leaving the dream of assured electricity to every household unfulfilled.
  • Most power distribution companies (discoms) continue to struggle with their financial turnaround plans despite implementation of the Centre’s mega loan recast scheme called UDAY. Unable to charge cost reflective tariffs, discoms have been resorting to widespread load-shedding to check their operational losses. It is difficult to see how the the Centre will be able to persuade states to implement 24-hour power supply plans in such a scenario.
  • Electrification in India has followed an approach of expansion, often driven by political considerations, without much emphasis on capacity augmentation and making the grid future ready. As a result, the distribution infrastructure is overburdened and in several States it is inadequate to carry available electricity, leading to frequent load shedding while their contracted generation capacities remain underutilised. Adding new load to the existing fragile distribution network will only compromise the quality and reliability of supply. It could result in continued blackouts for the rural poor during peak hours.
  • State strategy documents on 24×7 ‘Power for All’ highlight the need and quantum of augmentation required in distribution network capacity. The available funding support has been short of the growing requirement. Current allocations under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) and Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), to augment rural and urban distribution networks, respectively, are only a fraction of the requirement. Moreover, disbursement of these grants has been much slower, 17% under DDUGJY and 31% under IPDS, reflecting sluggish implementation.
  • There are twin challenges to be faced in improving access and equity. To many, the falling cost of renewable, decentralised sources such as solar photovoltaics represents a ready solution for rural India. Yet, the evidence from States such as Maharashtra, which made an early claim to full electrification six years ago relying partly on solar power, shows that theft, damage and lack of technical capacity can pose serious hurdles. The answer may lie in a hybrid solution that ensures continued scaling up of both grid-connected and standalone solar systems in appropriate areas, augmenting conventional sources of electricity, with a clear emphasis on rooftop solutions for cities.
  • India depends on coal to meet more than 60% of its electricity requirement and with coal production stagnating, the target of uninterrupted power supply remains a challenge.
  • Many states want to renegotiate Power Purchase Agreement. Power purchase agreement defines all the commercial terms for the sale of electricity between the two parties.
  • Some states have imposed significant barriers to Open Access policy. Open access policy is a step towards discovering a single market price for power around the country.
  • Existing subsidized tariffs in several States is unaffordable for the people.
  • Heavy Transmission & Distribution losses

Conclusion

Given the potential of electric power to empower people and prosper nation, the feat of 100% rural electrification is important however continued quality efforts are needed to maintain access to reliable and affordable power.

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