Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, made lofty promises in the run-up to the January 30 assembly elections for the welfare of below-poverty-line (BPL) families, but their track record during the previous regime does not inspire much confidence.
The state figures among the laggards in the implementation of a centrally-sponsored flagship scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), for providing access to electricity to rural households, especially BPL households, and upgradation of power infrastructure in rural areas in its previous tenure (2007-12).
The Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government not only did not meet its targets but also failed to make use of roughly two-thirds of the funds sanctioned for providing connections to BPL households and improvement in the power distribution network in villages. The Centre had sanctioned Rs 154 crore, later revised to Rs 184 crore, under the RGGVY during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) for releasing free electricity connections to more than 1.48 lakh BPL households and 'intensive electrification' of partially-electrified villages in the state.
The government released connections to only 53,925 poor households in the state, achieving merely 36% of the target, according to information available as on March 31, 2012. Its performance on the intensive electrification component for improvement of the electricity distribution network in the 11,000-odd villages spread across Punjab has been equally slack.
Of the funds sanctioned under the programme, the state was released Rs 59.90 crore by the union power ministry in 2008, with 90% of it coming as grant from the Centre. The state government did not utilise the money and, therefore, could not avail of the remaining funds. In contrast, neighbouring Haryana was allowed a project cost of Rs 223 crore for the release of free electricity connections to more than 2.52 lakh poor households and intensive electrification of 5,985 partially-electrified villages. The state has released more than 1.94 lakh free electricity connections and electrification works in 2,744 villages has been completed, availing of a bulk of the approved funds.
Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) chairman-cum-managing director KD Chaudhari said the corporation could not meet the target because the turnkey contractor did not perform well. "The delay in completion of the works led to these issues. We are going to release the connections departmentally, but identification of poor households under the rural electrification programme is taking time. About 70,000 connections have been released to poor households so far," he told HT.
The state-owned power corporation had awarded the project works to a private company in August 2008, but it did not complete them in spite of being granted several extensions in the execution period. The work order was cancelled last year due to tardy progress in the release of electricity connections and infrastructure works.
"The PSPCL had submitted the proposal to execute the work departmentally. However, the power ministry and the Rural Electrification Centre (REC) wrote back, saying that 30,000 BPL connections could be given departmentally, but infrastructure work is to be done on a turnkey basis," according to REC sources.
They said the corporation re-awarded the works for free connections and infrastructure upgradation in Amritsar, Patiala, Sangrur, Bathinda, Mansa, Moga, Muktsar, Faridkot, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur last December and the process was on in the remaining areas.
The RGGVY was started to provide access to electricity to all rural households, provide connections to BPL families free of charge, electrification of all villages and strengthening the rural electricity distribution with the provision of distribution transformers of appropriate capacity in villages and similar habitations.
RGGVY stats (11th Plan)
Funds approved: Rs 184 crore
Funds utilised: Rs 59.90 crore (33%)
BPL connections' target: 1,48,860
Connections released: 53,925 (36%)
BPL connections: how others fared
Uttar Pradesh 93%
Madhya Pradesh 56%