In September 2015, UN member countries adopted 17 goals for sustainable development, under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These 17 goals broadly consist of methods to eliminate poverty and inequality, by means of better access to resources and infrastructure for those who have been deprived of it. The seventh of these goals is ensuring access to affordable and clean energy. It includes working towards universal access to affordable, reliable, modern energy services. To track progress on this front, the UN releases the “State of Electricity Access Report”, with its detailed findings on how different countries and regions are progressing, what roadblocks they face, and how to get around them. In the State of Electricity Access Report 2017, India was found to have climbed up 73 places in the global rankings over just three years, to 26th place. Many factors have led to this leap, and among them is the change of government in 2014– but can the Modi government really be credited with this milestone?
In 2014, 1.06 billion people around the world were deprived of access to electricity. Statistics from the same year estimate only about 85% of the world population having access to electricity. That year, 81.2% of the Indian population had access to electricity, and in 2016, India inched closer to the global average by achieving 84.5% access to electricity. However, majority of the progress on this front happened from 2000 to 2014, as it was in this period that India more than halved the number of people living without electricity. India’s electrification levels went from 60% to almost 80% in this period, with great improvements in rural electrification. 400 million people gained access to electricity in the period, which is the biggest absolute increase around the world. The UN report gives credit for this tremendous improvement to policy measures such as the Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojana (2005), Remote Village Electrification programme, and other measures such as unbundling of State Electricity Boards and encouraging private capital in the energy sector. The report says underfinanced, unreliable infrastructure is the major hindrance to full electrification, so the government must encourage private players to take initiative in this field, and work on making electrification commercially profitable so it can sustain itself. Since around 90% of the funds for the Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojana were provided by the central government, we can largely credit the UPA government for this development. The major jump in global rankings, however, came from 2014 to 2017, during NDA rule.
Multiple news sites have reported the story as though electrification levels have increased tremendously under the NDA government, with PM Modi recently announcing 100% of villages in India had been electrified. Under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Yojana, only 10% of houses in a village need to use electricity for a village to be considered electrified, so though he was not wrong, his claim was bound to attract controversy, and rightfully so. The jump in State of Electricity Access ranking, however, has little to do with what percentage of people have access to electricity, but how easy it is for a new entrepreneur to obtain access to electricity for his business. The ranking is given by the Doing Business report, a report that gives detailed findings on business regulations and protection of business owners. India jumped 73 ranks to 26th place in the State of Electricity Access ranking, which measures how difficult it is for a new businessman to get an electricity connection for their enterprise. In the overall Ease of Doing Business, India ranks #77, it has jumped 23 places in a year. The Modi government can be credited with removing roadblocks for new businessmen, but not for electrification. World Bank data is only available till 2016, and Open Government data only considers the number of villages electrified, not the number of people or households that have access to electricity. Absolute numbers have dropped from 2015 to 2016, from 88% to 84.5%, for unclear reasons. Among BRICS nations, India ranks second to last in electrification, with only South Africa behind it, at 84.2%. The remaining three BRICS nations boast of 100% electrification. According to the World Bank, close to 120 countries have 100% electrification. India’s rise in State of Electricity Access ranking can be considered a win for India on the commercial front but not on the social front, as there is still a long way to go for a nation in which each and every citizen lives in a home with electricity.