Electricity for all: A promise to be kept

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All power to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s elbow in seeking to fulfil his promise to electrify the 3,000 villages which still don’t have electricity. Back in 2015, he had assured us that by 2019, his government would provide power to all the 18,000 villages which remained to be electrified. That figure has now dropped to 3,000. Some work has evidently been done. This has given Mr Modi heart and he has advanced the date for completing electrification by a year. So, by December 2018, with the Centre committing Rs 16,320 crores (the remainder of the tab to be picked up by the states), the happy moment is expected to arrive. This will be terrific news even if the target is reached somewhat late. This is as good a time as any to do some stocktaking. It will be useful to know if electricity has reached all homes in the approximately 15,000 villages which have been electrified, as per the government’s data. In Gujarat, when Mr Modi was chief minister, promises of electrifying all villages had not yielded power for every home in the rural areas which had wanted connections.
Indeed, there is the interesting issue of governmental definitions. If a transformer tower arrives within a certain distance of a rural settlement, electrification of surrounding villages is deemed complete. It is to be hoped that the promise of the “Saubhagya” plan for household electrification made by the Prime Minister on Monday does not meet this fate. At the BJP’s extended national executive meeting, also on Monday, the party’s top leadership was shortsighted when it continued to defend demonetisation. The people have suffered way too much due to this poorly-conceived and more poorly planned measure, and our GDP is at imminent risk of dropping about two per cent for the year. In the circumstances, government finances are more than likely to be under severe strain.
Non-tax revenues for the current year are expected to drop sharply, with the dividends from the Reserve Bank and government companies, and the proceeds from disinvestment not looking too good as of now. Governmental spending on infrastructure at a hectic pace in such circumstances could strain the fiscal deficit.
The railway minister is already speaking of parcelling off railway operations to the private sector since the government’s finances do not look to be in the pink of health. It is to be seen if the private sector will show boldness in stepping up to the plate. The next Lok Sabha election is not too far away and leaders do make promises to keep in the people’s favour. But it will be truly wonderful for the people if the assurances made by the highest authority in the country can be met.

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