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Mini-grid services continue to drive rural India's need for reliable power supply: Survey

The survey analyses the impact of post-COVID-19 lockdown in the mini-grid villages and takes into consideration the availability of livelihood options and the economic fallout of the lockdown on various mini-grid consumer segments

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Smart Power India (SPI), a subsidiary of the Rockefeller Foundation today released the second edition of its survey titled ‘Impact of Post-COVID-19 Lockdown’. The survey was conducted in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with a sample size of 358 consisting of households (29%), shops (43%) and rural enterprises (28%) from 15 April 2020 to 20 May 2020. The survey analyses the impact of post-COVID-19 lockdown in the mini-grid villages and takes into consideration the overall perception around the stimulus package, availability of livelihood options, and the economic fallout of the lockdown on various mini-grid consumer segments.
 
Speaking on the consumer survey, Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, Smart Power India, said, “Economic activities have continued to witness major drop in the mini-grid villages despite relaxations in lockdown guidelines. However, direct Government interventions in the form of the stimulus package, special support for small businesses and the distribution of free foodgrains have provided the much-needed relief to the people. But in order to ensure long-term sustainable development for rural India, basic amenities such reliable power, world class healthcare services and state-of-the-art infrastructure must be provided in the restoration process post-COVID-19.”

The survey further pointed out that in the absence of steady flow of income, rural households are mostly relying on Government support. Welfare initiatives such as PM Garib Kaylan Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, and old age pension funds are helping the mini-grid villages during the COVID-19 lockdown. Provision of free ration and cooking gas will play a crucial role in easing the economic burden on rural households in the short term. As a result, nearly 55 percent of the respondents have expressed satisfaction with the stimulus package announced by the Government. However, 11 percent of the respondents still felt Government’s relief measures are inadequate for supporting rural poor and reviving the economy.
 
Surprisingly, in sharp contrast to improved social hygiene behaviour reported in the first edition of this survey, relaxations in lockdown guidelines have apparently led to a consistent fall in social hygiene practices in the mini-grid villages of UP and Bihar. Nearly 73 percent of respondents pointed to a significant drop in adoption of social hygiene practices since the first phase of lockdown. Social hygiene is based on respondent’s perception of adoption of face mask, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. The reduction in social hygiene is caused by relaxed lockdown norms. Availability of essential goods and services has seen significant improvements as compared to the first phase of the lockdown. However, cash flow in mini-grid villages continues to remain significantly low even as India has entered the fourth phase of lockdown with major relaxations.
 
When asked about the power supply in the villages, 70 percent of the respondents stated a drop in grid connected electricity supply in mini-grid villages of UP and Bihar as India extended the lockdown till May 31, 2020. Unlike what the first edition of this survey revealed, Uttar Pradesh has seen an increase in grid-connected electricity supply from 12 hours a day to 15 hours a day, while Bihar witnessed significant drop from 20 hours a day to 15.5 hours a day. Mini grid services, on the other hand, fared better and provided reliable power supply to the villages despite the lockdown. Relaxations in lockdown rules have improved mini-grid services in the villages while in containment zones, the services continue to be affected.

“Access to affordable electricity is a key component of rural development. Reliable power supply especially in times of crisis like this will ensure seamless delivery of essential services such as healthcare, education (online learning) and internet connectivity. Reliable power supply will play a key role in rebuilding the rural economy in the post-COVID-19 world,” added Mukherji.

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