The scheme fails to incentivise DISCOMS to provide uninterrupted quality services
Saubhagya scheme does not encourage micro-enterprises or income generating opportunities that could allow consumers to afford their electricity usage. Credit: Ankur Paliwal / CSE
The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or Saubhagya scheme was introduced in September 2017, primarily to ensure last-mile connection of all willing yet unelectrified households. The scheme is facilitated through the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) and encompasses both rural and urban un-electrified households—aiming to provide 40 million electricity connections by March 2019.
The scheme is funded by government’s grant to DISCOMS/Power departments, utility contributions and loans from financial institutions. States get 30 per cent of the project cost as loan. For special category states, the Centre gives 10 per cent of the total project cost as loan. Under the Saubhagya scheme, if a village achieves its electrification targets by December 2018, the government converts 50 per cent of the loan component to grants.
Saubhagya was introduced to compensate for the drawbacks of earlier schemes that considered a village electrified if it had basic distribution infrastructure to supply electricity to all public places (schools, hospitals, community centres etc) and only 10 per cent of households. The scheme lays emphasis on providing energy access to unelectrified households, whereas, its predecessors—the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) and Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS)—were primarily focused at improving infrastructure.
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Awareness is still an issue
Lack of knowledge dissemination is a significant deterrent to achieving round-the-clock electricity for all. Beneficiaries seldom understand the incentives made available to them and electricity providers cannot effectively strategise for efficient supply management due to lack of field data. Through knowledge dissemination camps, involvement of gram panchayats and public institutions, Saubhagya aims to increase awareness and facilitate spot applications as well as streamline documentation, distribution of bills and revenue collection.
DISCOMS are an impediment
The scheme fails to incentivise DISCOMS to provide uninterrupted quality services. This is despite the positive correlation between reliable electricity and an increase in electricity usage and people’s willingness to pay, as evident across the country. Additionally, it fails to mobilise its target audience to interact and participate in data feedback loops, essential for refining their electricity supply.
The scheme talks about enabling people and bringing about socio-economic development, which is often reiterated by the Prime Minister. However, it does not encourage micro-enterprises or income generating opportunities that could allow consumers to afford their electricity usage. Not accounting for the household’s inability to pay heightens an existing bottleneck in electricity services. Defaulters, who have lost their electricity connections due to non-payment, have not been accommodated within the scheme. The scheme should provide them with financing solutions that allow them to pay off their dues and earn back electricity rights.
In case of non-completion under Saubhagya, remaining unelectrified villages will spill over to DDU-GKY. Experts predict that the last few houses will reap benefits of electricity only by 2021-2022. The true success or failure of India’s electrification strategy will only be evident in Census 2021.
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