The picture below is from a village on the road from Lucknow to Sitapur. The village is only 30 kilometers from Lucknow and, as expected, there is a power distribution line running through it. However, the existence of this line does not mean that the villagers have access to electricity. None of the households in this particular hamlet is electrified even though many of them live within meters of the distribution line in pucca houses that could be easily electrified.
To the left of the power line pole is a small solar panel that provides electricity to a single streetlight used to illuminate the surroundings of the small Hindu temple next to it. The red sign states the name of the local politician who claims credit for this achievement.
When we saw this scene, we talked to a few of the villagers how they feel about the electricity supply in the village. To our surprise, the villagers were not in any way dissatisfied with the government’s rural electrification policies. Even though they were living next to a power distribution line and had received no help with household connections, the villagers did not see anything wrong with the government’s replacing proper household connections with a simple temple light. According to the villagers, they simply did not expect the government to provide electricity. After all, no government had done so in the past either.
This is an unfortunate situation of very low levels of political accountability. Since the villagers have never benefited much from the government’s policies, they do not see anything wrong with the lack of household connections in a village that already has a power distribution line. The idea that the government would be responsible for providing basic energy access simply does not occur to the local population. In fact, the local community’s expectations are so low that politicians can claim credit for a single streetlight without being attacked for failing to do their job.
Uttar Pradesh has in recent years made progress in rural electrification, but the reality is that village electrification does not say much about electricity access in the households. There is a real need for innovations by social scientists to strengthen the accountability of politicians to the local population. One would hope that if large numbers of villagers began to demand better services and punish ineffective governments by voting against them, politicians in the future would not get away with this kind of behavior.