Of the five states, Assam is the state in the worst geographic, climactic, and political situation in terms of providing rural electrification to its people. It is connected to the rest of India through a narrow strip in West Bangal called the Siliguri Corridor which is flood and cyclone prone (Assam). This makes the connection of Assam to the rest of the Indian national grid extremely difficult as the infrastructure runs the risk of being destroyed through natural disasters. Also, fewer potential siting paths in this narrow strip make power line siting problematic. On top of these problems, the great distance that the grid would need to cover to reach this remote state make extending the grid to Assam a very costly project. Thus any rural electrification program in Assam must be focused on either an Assam based mico-grid or a completely off-grid solution.
One of Asia's most important rivers, the Brahmaputra, meanders through much of Assam watering its many tropical and deciduous forests and makes it one of the most biodiverse and beautiful states in the nation (Assam). These forests and other areas of high environmental quality and importance are why Assam attracts so many wild-life and eco-tourists and hosts two UNESCO sights. Assam is also home to an active terrorist separatist movement that is motivated by ethnic and religious differences and the state also experiences frequent small earthquakes (Assam).
So while Assam could tap into the power of its river by damming it, the environmental destruction as well as the loss of tourism and world heritage status would be a strong and likely insurmountable deterrent to the utilization of that technology. This geographic and climactic situation result in higher costs to damming the river, while the political situation involving the separatists and the tectonic situation makes the lifetime and security of a potential dam more uncertain, thereby driving up the project's risk premium. Also, the Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river so India exerting more control over it's flow regime could be a new source of tension with Bangladesh. Thus an Assam-wide micro-grid that gets a preponderance of its power from dams on the Brahmaputra river would be an inappropriate solution to Assam's rural electrification issue and smaller decentralized electrical solutions should be considered more seriously.
Assam experiences heavy monsoon in the summer months and foggy nights and mornings in the winter which make it ill suited for photovoltaic and solar thermal energy systems (Assam). Also the suitability of a biofuel based solution in the state is questionable as Assam is home to diverse, fragile and important forest ecosystems. The potential that biofuel dependence has to result in the destruction of these forests in order to transform them to cropland must be taken into account when weighing the pros and cons of a particular energy solution to apply to Assam.
In terms of its fossil fuel potential, the state currently supplies 25% of India's petroleum and has abundant coal and natural gas supplies (Assam). However, the relative poverty of Assam in relation with the rest of India means that mining operations in Assam can profit more by exporting the fossil fuel resources than by using them locally. Also, the implementation of fossil fuel based electrical generation would require large amounts of transmission infrastructure, which may encroach upon the protected ecosystem, and these power generating facilities would still be threatened from the heavy monsoons, earthquakes and terrorist attacks that occur in Assam (Hussain). Thus distributed energy generation technology may be most appropriate to Assam as it minimizes space used and lowers the risk of a single event causing massive power failure.
Bihar is mainly composed of a flat, fertile plane with the Ganges River flowing through it. The river floods regularly as it fills with monsoon rains in Bihar and carries the rains from areas further upstream like the Nepalese Himalayas. The river flows from the northern mountains which are part of Nepal to the southern plateau that was part of Bihar until 2000, but now is part of the newly formed state of Jhankand. It is India's third largest state by population and youngest state in terms of age distribution, meanwhile 85% of its residents live in villages (Bihar). The large, predominantly young and predominantly rural population would suggest that Bihar would see a high level of migration to Bihari cities, however for reasons clarified below, that has not been the case.
Along with Orissa, Bihar has been one of the most neglected states in India in terms of attention and funds received from the federal government. Bihar is the poorest state in all of India and yet receives less financial assistance for health and education than the average Indian state. The central government's per capita investment in education and health in Bihar is 18% and 55% respectively below the average per capita funding received by the other states (Guruswamy). Typically the central government gives more funds for development to urban centers as they have higher quality institutions and governance than rural areas so the funds get better utilized. However, the central government provides significantly lower financial institutional assistance to Bihar than to other states so government aide to Bihar is not as affective as aide elsewhere so the government directs funds elsewhere (Guruswamy). This has resulted in a situation where Bihari students do not necessarily receive higher quality education and more possibilities for employment in cities and so Bihar has seen de-urbanization, which is unprecedented in India.
Bihar may also not be a beneficiary of the largess of the central government due to its massive amounts of corruption. According to a Transparency International 2005 study, Bihar is India's most corrupt state which may discourage aide programs as the government may rightfully fear that this money will simply disappear (Transparency). This is a greater obstacle for larger projects as there are more opportunities for funds to go missing when the amounts are so large, there is a greater distance between the funding sources and where the funding ultimately goes, there are more people involved, and there are more complexities in the project.
The current situation in Bihar suggests that large, capital intensive projects should be avoided due to corruption and regular population shifts. Until patterns in population shifts become more predictable in Bihar, large outlays of capital and infrastructure should be postponed in order to avoid building infrastructure to reach populations that are no longer there. Also, it is recommendable for NGOs and other non-Indian governmental organizations to avoid working directly with the Bihari government if possible and work on small projects directly with those who will benefit from them.
The land of Jharkand is one of the richest in India in terms of natural mineral resources and one of the poorest in terms of the wealth of its rural populations. Poverty in the region is so profound that roughly 2,322,000 rural families live below India's poverty line (Infochange). This poverty rate of greater than 10% of the population coupled with the vast natural resource wealth that has not been profiting the local population has contributed to the success of the Naxalite rebels in making the state the center of their insurgency (Jharkand).
The poverty gap between rural subsistence farmers and wealthy city dwellers in Ranchi who have profited from the state's natural resources has made recruitment to the communist rebel groups, the Naxalites, very appealing as they argue that they are fighting for the rural poor against capitalist exploitation. The Naxalites have started targeting infrastructure related to the extraction of natural resources as the federal government holds a monopoly on sub-surface resources and the tribal population is prevented from taking any claim on them (Asia Times, Global Politician). While the Naxalites are problematic in some of the other states outlined in this paper like Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, they have the greatest amount of control over Jharkhand and it is the center of the Naxal insurgency and government counter-insurgency efforts (Jharkhand).
However, the Naxalites are a separatist group and want the parts of India that they control to break off of the rest of the nation to form a Maoist state. So while they are attacking large scale power infrastructure projects and installations thus making these projects more costly and less desirable to build, there is still a benefit to their construction beyond the power services they could provide. By building a strong electrical grid in Jharkand that connects to neighboring states the Indian government will have a stronger interest in maintaining control over the state and defeating the Naxalites. The Indian government will have this added incentive to maintain control in the region so as not to loose on its investment and the population will be less likely to support the Naxalites as the state of India has helped them rise out of poverty due to increased electrical access. So while these projects are attacked because the Naxalites want to get the federal government out of the state, it is possible that the state should increase these same sorts of projects to reassert control.
The Naxalite terrorist uprising threatens any attempt to utilize the natural mineral resources of the region so any move to increase coal mining and coal powered electrification in the region is susceptible to attacks. But smaller scale, renewable energy based electrification schemes may not be viewed as another attempt to exploit the people and the state of Jharkhand resulting in a lower risk premium. These renewable energy projects may be more fitting for the state as it receives both high levels of wind and sun on a regular basis. However, the nature of the clear skies for most of the year and the four month monsoon requires a energy source mix so as to have a system that produces energy both in and out of monsoon season (WebIndia123).
The need for rural electrification in Jharkhand is pressing as the population of its capital, Ranchi, is exploding. While the rural and urban population of Ranchi are both growing, the urban population has grown 33.83% from 1991 to 2001 while the rural population has grown only 21.83% (Ranchi at a Glance) . This 10% discrepancy can be mainly attributed to migrations from rural to urban Ranchi. This trend will continue and possibly accelerate thereby increasing grid stress and energy insecurity in Ranchi, so efforts designed to promote rural electrification that take into account Jharkhand's climate and political situation are necessary to increase overall energy security in the state.
- "Assam -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Assam>.
- "Bihar -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bihar#Economy>.
- Carl, Jeremy. "Hidden civil war drains India's energy." Asia Times Online 9 Aug. 2006. Print.
- "Climate of jharkhand-rivers of jharkhand-webindia123.com." Webindia123.com. Web. 18 Nov. 2009. <http://www.webindia123.com/jharkhand/land/climate.htm>.
- Guruswamy, Mohan, and Jeevan Mohanty. The De-urbanization of Bihar. Centre for Policy Alternatives, Feb. 2004. Web. 19 Nov. 2009. <http://cpasindia.org/>.
- Hussain, Zarir. "Poll fever grips Assam: development, terrorism main campaign issues." Indians in Thailand. Thai Indian News, 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/india-news/poll-fever-grips-assam-development- terrorism-main-campaign-issues_100151257.html>.
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- Thapaliya, Bhuwan. "Rising Maoists Insurgency in India." Global Politician (2007). http://globalpolitician.com/22790-india
- "Welcome to the Official Website of Ranchi District, Jharkhand."Official Website of Ranchi, Jharkhand Web. 23 Nov. 2009. <http://www.ranchi.nic.in/glance.htm>.
Coming up next: Part 3 of the Rural Electrification in India series which will be an analysis of the other 2 states that rank lowest in terms of both household and village electrification. This will be a 10 part series (more or less), so get excited!