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India

India fully electric after last village gets connected … so the government claims

Every village in India now has electricity, but millions still live in darkness

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 9:58pm

Electricity has reached every Indian village after the establishment of a connection at the weekend to Leisang, a tiny hamlet in the remote state of Manipur, the government has announced.

Opposition parties have been sceptical of the achievement, calling it a political ruse ahead of important state and national elections.

Indian media have also highlighted cases of villages supposedly electrified but where power appears to be non-existent, intermittent or available only to a few.

The Indian government considers a village to be electrified if basic infrastructure such as schools are connected to the grid as well as at least 10 per cent of households.

About 270 million Indians, more than one-sixth of the population, are estimated to live without electricity, according to a World Bank report last year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted at the weekend that Saturday would be “remembered as a historic day in the development journey of India”.

“We fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be transformed forever”, he said, announcing every village in the country was “powered and empowered”.

Efforts to provide electricity to every Indian have historically been hampered by poorly designed and implemented schemes that encouraged contractors to do the bare minimum to make sure a village qualified as electrified.

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However, Surjit Singh Ningthoujam, who runs computer literacy programmes in the remote district of Manipur, where the last village to receive electricity is located, said progress in the area in the past three years had been impressive.

“When electricity comes, people usually buy a TV and that totally changes their lives,” he said.

“It is also a hilly area, so with lights they can go from house to house at nighttime.”

Still, he said, the supply in many villages remained unreliable and he often had to run his computer training courses using solar energy, which has reached some villages before government power lines.

In Rajghat, a village in Rajasthan, solar panels are all that power the few lights in the community. Dilip Kumar, a resident, greeted Modi’s announcement bitterly.

“I have shifted my brother and children from this village so they can study,” the farmer, 26, said.

The government had refused for years to connect the village to the grid because it is legally considered to be on forest land, he said.

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“And now we have to use mustard oil to light our lamps, since the government banned kerosene because it is too polluting. But mustard oil is too expensive.”

A spokesman for the opposition Congress party, Randeep Singh Surjewala, tweeted that the previous government led by his party had electrified 97 per cent of the country’s nearly 700,000 villages but “did not boast”.

He said Modi had only needed to connect 18,452 villages to declare full electrification.

Modi promised in his independence day speech in 2015 that every Indian village would be electrified within 1,000 days.

Saturday, when Leisang was connected to the grid, was 988 days since that promise.

The government has said all of India’s 180 million rural Indian households will have electricity by 2019.

About 82 per cent have electricity as of Monday, according to its real-time progress tracker.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post