The Planning Commission is supposedly listening! The Planning Commission and their partner India@75’s Facebook pages are open to receiving your suggestions on what the 12th Five Year Plan should look like. This is the Planning Commission’s new inclusive approach of ‘reaching out to today’s youth’.

But are they really listening to the people? We just found out! A delegation of villagers from Bihar (Saran and Madhubani district) and Uttar Pradesh (Azamgarh district) led by Greenpeace met some of the members of the Planning Commission to talk about modification in rural electrification approach and policies.

What did they have to say? They pointed towards lacunae in the existing rural electrification scheme, namely Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY). They wanted more decentralisation of power. They wanted decentralised renewable energy (DRE).

Children studying under the light of an lantern in a village in India For you and me in the cities, it is just a matter of calling the local electricity department in case of problems or silently suffering a few hours without electricity or just plugging in our inverters or generators. In rural areas it is a matter of few hours of electricity, kerosene lanterns, candles or complete darkness. Hence it is no surprise that rural India is unable to grow at a desired pace.

Electricity is considered very important for the achievement of development goals by the government of India, Planning Commission and even the United Nations! If rural areas were to get quality and reliable electricity, it would mean children studying in the night, possibilities for cottage and small industries, increased agricultural productivity, better education (computers) and health facilities (refrigeration of vaccines) and so on.

The fact is that urban areas have always been prioritized over rural areas on electricity. Even with more than 40 giga watt (GW) of capacity addition in power between 2007-2012, we have not been able to provide reliable electricity to rural areas which require less than 15 GW. Therefore we don’t have a power generation problem, we have flawed policies towards rural electrification.

So the representatives from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh suggested that there should be localised generation and distribution of electricity through renewable energy. This would reduce transmission and distribution losses, enable them to use renewable energy resources available to them in their area, not make them dependent on large centralised plants and infrastructure and ensure quality and reliable electricity when they want it. They wanted their whole village to be electrified (all households plus shops, irrigation pumpsets etc), not just houses. They also wanted more Panchayat involvement in the scheme and their inclusion in the monitoring system through social audits.

The Planning Commission listened to them attentively and informed them that they will be taking the recommendations forward. The representatives were delighted that they had directly presented their views to the apex planning body in the country!

So can you! Give your inputs on anything but make sure you do! Talk about your city, town or village and let them know what you think and want. Take care to include voices from our rural brethren who are not as techno-savvy as us. They know their problems and solutions; they just need a little help in pushing the policy makers to listen to them. They want electricity that can give impetus to their economy. They dream of development just like you and me.

Ranjan Kumar from Bihar looked around in wonderment when we were in the Yojana Bhavan in Delhi. He looked at the conference hall, air conditioning, projector and TV in awe. At end of the whole meeting when we were about to exit the building he remarked, “I never knew there were so many possibilities with electricity!”


Image: Children use kerosene lamps and lanterns for studying in Tahirpur village, Saran district, Bihar. © Greenpeace/Harikrishna Katragadda