Saubhagya scheme likely to find mention in Budget 2018

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New Delhi: Given its electoral potential, finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech is expected to extol the benefits of Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or the Saubhagya scheme.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Rs16,320 crore scheme last year to provide electricity connections to more than 40 million families in rural and urban areas by December 2018, and help achieve universal electricity access.

“Saubhagya will be talked about in the budget speech,” said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

The scheme funds the cost of last-mile connectivity to willing households. According to the contours of the scheme, a service cable will be drawn from the nearest electricity pole to the household premise where an electricity meter will be installed along with the wiring for a single light point with an LED bulb and a mobile charging point.

“This is the final push which is required…Till now, the electrification of villages was the main focus. It’s good that Saubhagya has come at the right time and we should merge it nicely with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) as its extension,” said the official quoted above.

Despite the government’s aggressive village electrification programme, the Rs43,033 crore DDUGJY that was launched to provide financial assistance to power distribution companies “for strengthening and augmenting distribution infrastructure, including metering, in rural areas”, it was realized that the problem of electricity “access” wasn’t resolved.

Given that a village is declared to be electrified if 10% of the households can access power along with public institutions such as schools, the panchayat office, health centres, dispensaries and community centres; household electrification remains the final frontier in providing electricity access.

“Ensuring the last citizen gets access to the electricity grid by March 2019 is realistic and has transformational implications on economic and social development. It’s the most significant policy achievement last year to change lives of citizens,” said Sambitosh Mohapatra, partner (power and utilities) at PwC India.

This comes in the backdrop of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government trying to expand its political footprint after coming to power in 19 states, winning Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in December. India has an installed power generation capacity of 330,860.58 megawatts (MW). According to the government, the Saubhagya scheme will require an additional 28,000MW, considering an average load of one kilowatt per household for eight hours a day.

The Saubhagya scheme will provide the architecture through which the government seeks to reduce import of fossil fuels, boost underutilized power plants and meet its climate change commitments,. The government is betting on universal access to electricity provided under the scheme and plans to leverage the same to promote induction cooking, heating and charging electric vehicles, apart from the initial target of providing lighting.

Queries emailed to a finance ministry spokesperson on 24 January remained unanswered. Ministry officials have been quarantined for the duration of the last phase of preparations for the budget, which will be unveiled by Jaitley on 1 February.

Power minister Raj Kumar Singh is of the view that the scheme will help improve India’s per-capita power consumption of around 1,200 kilowatt hour, which is among the lowest in the world.livemint