The West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC) has approved an investment proposal of ₹2.42 billion (~$32.92 million) by the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company (WBSEDCL) for providing connectivity and electrification to 646,439 rural households in West Bengal under the Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA) program.
The Commission also asked WBSEDCL not to go ahead with any project without obtaining prior permission from the Commission in the future. The state distribution company (DISCOM) had submitted an application seeking the Commission’s approval for the total investment of ₹2.59 billion (~$35.14 million) to provide last mile connectivity and electrification of 554,999 households and providing standalone solar systems for electrification of 1,861 rural households in 23 districts.
In September 2017, the SAUBHAGYA program was launched to achieve universal household electrification by providing last-mile connectivity and electricity connections to all households in rural and urban areas with the provision of solar-based standalone systems to unelectrified homes where grid extension is neither feasible nor cost-effective.
The DISCOM, the project implementing agency, submitted a detailed project report (DPR) for the electrification plan under the SAUBHAGYA program.
On July 09, 2018, the monitoring committee approved the project cost of ₹2.59 billion (~$35.14 million). The central government sanctioned the grant of 75% of the total cost, which amounted to ₹1.94 billion (~$26.35 million), and the West Bengal government gave its approval for the grant of ₹647.7 million (~$8.78 million), which amounted to 25% of the project cost.
In its submission, the DISCOM had said that the project report was for electrification of a total of 554,999 rural households from the grid and 1,861 rural households from off-grid standalone solar systems.
In its supplementary petition filed on February 25, 2020, it noted that 646,439 had been electrified as of December 31, 2019, instead of the approved 554,999. The DISCOM had continued to provide connections beyond the approved figures within the initial project cost.
The state DISCOM noted that for the 1,861 off-grid connections through standalone solar systems, it was observed that most villages were temporary in nature and were not allowed connections as per the SAUBHAGYA guidelines. The connections under off-grid mode were not provided, resulting in the non-utilization of the approved cost of ₹93 million (~$1.27 million).
Considering this, the DISCOM requested the Commission to approve the total investment of ₹2.42 billion (~$32.92 million) for providing last-mile connectivity and electrification of 646,439 rural households (on-grid) as amended against the estimated target connections of 554,999 (including on-grid and off-grid) with an investment of ₹2.59 billion (~$35.14 million).
The Commission observed that WBSEDCL undertook the project under the SAUBHAGYA program under 100% funding arrangement of the central government (75%) and the state government (25%). The Commission also noted that the project was executed without the prior approval of the Commission on an urgent basis for meeting the timeline criteria for availing the additional grant of 15% from the Government of India.
Considering all the facts, the Commission approved the investment proposal of ₹2.42 billion (~$32.8 million) for the electrification of 646,439 households in the state’s rural areas.
In September this year, speaking in the Lok Sabha, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh said that over 300,000 households had been electrified through solar-based standalone systems. Since the SAUBHAGYA program’s launch, 26.3 million homes were electrified across the country up to March 31, 2019.
Rakesh is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Prior to joining Mercom, he worked in many roles as a business correspondent, assistant editor, senior content writer, and sub-editor with bcfocus.com, CIOReview/Silicon India, Verbinden Communication, and Bangalore Bias. Rakesh holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). More articles from Rakesh Ranjan.