NEW LIGHT IN BI­HAR

How one of­fi­cer has pulled the state out of the dark ages

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

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

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