Rural electricity access in India in retrospect: A critical rumination
Despite the large-scale efforts towards electrification in India since the time of independence, approximately 45 million households still continue to be without electricity access. This paper critically analyses the evolution of the process of rural electrification in India, the factors that potentially determine the household electricity access and juxtaposed that with the policies adopted over three distinct time periods: the pre-independence period; the period of state ownership and the post-reforms period. The paper then builds on the key insights that could be drawn from the evolution in retrospect and attempts to highlight key historical challenges that the electricity sector has been constantly grappling with. The paper observes that during the early period of Five Year Plans, electricity was mainly used for productive input in agro-industries and for irrigation. Household access was only given priority when it was started to be considered as a basic input in the 1980s. With the enactment of the Electricity Act in 2003, the importance of electricity as an infrastructure for changing the rural landscape was felt. Based on the insights gained from the critical analysis of process of rural electrification in retrospect, the paper provides specific inputs for policy making for rural electrification in India.