NEW LIGHT IN BIHAR
How one officer has pulled the state out of the dark ages
Bihar is ringing in what might be the biggest game-changer since Independence—reliable, uninterrupted electric power supply to even those remote corners of the state that have not seen a working light bulb for the almost seven decades India has been a free nation. It’s been an onerous challenge. When Nitish Kumar first became chief minister in 2005, the default power distribution network was in a complete shambles. Most rural settlements had poles without power lines; more than 30,000 transformers were unserviceable, having burnt out years ago. There was ample electric power available from the Eastern Grid but Bihar just did not have the transmission/distribution network to use it. Even urban areas, including Patna, had to make do with 8-10 hours of electricity a day.
In June 2014, Nitish picked Pratyaya Amrit, a 1991 batch IAS officer
with a reputation for turning around nearimpossible situations, as his energy secretary. The officer found an incredibly simple solution to Bihar’s problematic power situation. Within three months, 30,000 faulty transformers were either repaired or replaced, and several hundred kilometres of new transmission lines were laid to kickstart the dysfunctional distribution network. Amrit introduced a new, streamlined system wherein contractors and suppliers, who earlier had to wait for months to be paid for works they had executed, now mandatorily received payments within 18 days. It is the quickest processing of payments for civil works in the
EVEN RURAL HOUSEHOLDS NOW GET OVER 12-18 HOURS OF POWER SUPPLY EVERY DAY
country, and it has not only helped weed out corruption but has also significantly brought down project costs. “Contractors and suppliers were quoting higher prices to offset losses from delayed payments,” the principal secretary explains.
Although still a ‘work in progress’, the change is visible across Bihar. Consider the numbers: per capita consumption is up to 258 units from the meagre 70 units when Nitish first became CM in 2005; overall power consumption has more than doubled from 1,751 MW in 2012 to 3,769 MW (in October 2016); the number of consumers has more than quadrupled from 1.73 million to 8.1 million households; and even rural households now get 1218 hours of power supply every day. “Our objective is to connect every household in the state by the end of 2018,” says the CM. Of the total 39,073 villages in Bihar, now less than a thousand have yet to be electrified in the state (which means over 98 per cent of villages are already electrified).
SWITCH ON P. Amrit (in white) at the Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana site in Bakhtiarpur, Patna