From what we have seen of the Modi government in action so far, one fundamental factor stands out. The new PM is a man who is not afraid to take tough decisions to turn around the country´s economy. And now it looks like the new dispensation has turned its attention to the power sector, which is crying out for urgent reform.
The Power Minister has declared that the Gujarat model of 24x7 electricity supply would be replicated across other States. The ministry has rightly identified the lacunae: it is transmission and distribution of electricity that needs a complete revamp.
Narendra Modi managed to push through power reforms in Gujarat in the face of considerable opposition not just from the Congress but also members of his ruling coalition and powerful farmer lobbies. This decision was taken when the State was reeling from the aftermath of the post-Godhra communal carnage.
First, in 2002, he declared that all new electricity connections would be metered. Next year, Gujarat launched the Jyotigram Yojana, a scheme which had the ambitious twin objectives of improving the quality of power supply and boosting groundwater management. Feeders for power supply to agricultural connections were separated from the lines carrying electricity to residential and commercial customers. Gujarat State Electricity Employees were given special training sessions to help them gear up for the difficult reform process ahead. The State electricity board also went through a massive financial restructuring exercise.
Under the Gujarat Electricity Industry (Reform and Reorganisation) Act, GSEB was spun off into a holding company, a power generation company, a power transmission company and four distribution companies. The Jyotigram Yojana had three objectives: First, intelligent rationing of farm power supply to match irrigation closely as possible; second, a power supply roster for villages was adopted, and third, supply of full voltage, uninterrupted power to agriculture was assured during rationing hours.
The results have been astonishing. From 2001 to 2007, when India´s agricultural GDP continued to chug along at the Hindu growth rate of 2.9 per cent annually, Gujarat´s farm sector notched up a healthy 10 per cent growth. As a few analysts have pointed out, Gujarat´s pace of growth in the agricultural sector even beats Punjab´s performance during the heydays of the Green Revolution.
Now I feel that the biggest reason that these reforms succeeded is that Gujarat´s people were taken into confidence before these measures were taken. Events were hosted at the village level for farmers where they were convinced on the need for reforms and the mechanism of the Jyotigram Yojana was explained to them.
Reforms will never work with diktats from the top. Though the PM has been talking about the need to swallow a few bitter pills for resurrecting the economy, there is considerable opposition building up to the few measures which have been taken so far... just witness the bruhaha over the rail fare hike. The I&B Ministry should actually go into overdrive now, taking States into confidence, and the explain the benefits of the Gujarat power model so that this scheme can be rolled out across the country.
India simply cannot afford to neglect electricity reforms, especially in the agricultural sector. Rural migration is putting an unmanageable load on the creaking infrastructure in our cities, and the reason for this influx is the darkness that envelops our power-starved villages.
Of course, a one-size-fits-all approach will not help. Can the Jyotigram Yojana be replicated across all our States? Do keep writing in with your comments.
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