In the course of continuous travel through villages in Sualkuchi, Hajoe, Nalbadi, and few other places within Assam in one day, this above title line became the recollected quote of the day. This quote came from a villager in Nalbadi. It was directed to franchisee operations of a local NGO that has brought trust and hope in the life of villagers. The trust is that as long as the NGO and franchisee operations are there, life in the village will not be without light.
According to villagers, franchisee operations have ensured better electricity provision of services for them. Inspite of that, franchisee operations are also facing the problem of hooking, pilferage in the lines that provide electricity for these people. According to comments made by local people, this pilferage is often happening owing to collusion between local lineman, feeder maintenance engineer, certain officers and the police force. In some cases, meter damages are also happening in local circles. It is however not clear whether any other agent is also engaged in meter damages that is hampering the proper revenue collection and metering of electricity at the local circles of operation. There is a need for monitoring at the local circle to enhance the success of operations within these local circles.
Collusion between these people facilitates pilferage and villagers are often being deprived of timely, quality power supply. Now, the question is - Can we stop this collusive activity to sustain the trust of people on franchisees and in the power delivery systems which has developed over the years?
Incentives in the form of giving power to the agent engaged in the collusion to stop this activity can be thought of as one of the ways. Will information disclosure norms to stop bribe taking and collusive behavior be a way to reduce this activity ensuring better power supply for villagers? There is no definite answer to this because it is not clear why these agents will disclose the act of theft when it appears that implicit support from the existing agents of institutions exists. However, one should remember that there are honest, dishonest people on both sides and people who want faster provision of electricity to villagers are also fighting against this implicit support.
However, there is still a need for institutional reforms which can be the first step. Such reforms have to bring in effective monitoring and coordination at the local circles between all agencies engaged in the delivery of power to remote villages. All institutions have to join hands and work together giving each other space and showing faith on each other in the journey of providing electricity to villages through franchisee operations.
The contention is that policies should be enforced which in no ways should allow the trust of the people to go down from the system of power delivery through franchisee which has developed over a time of 5 years. Rent seeking, lapses in an institutional system would always try to hinder the infusion of efficiency in delivery of services. It will happen more when new mechanisms, operations will reduce rent seeking volumes of the agents (who were earlier reaping rents) from the system. However, policies should prioritise the welfare of villages/villagers who become the beneficiaries of these service provisions. This should be done by checking rent seeking activities. It might not be reduced immediately as bribes, collusive corruptions cannot be stopped overnight. It will continue to exist as long as human race exist because corruption is a form of living of human beings. However, policy pragmatism has to be there to check and reorient it in a way so that beneficiaries in the villages are not harassed in owing to the existences of these loopholes.
Sometimes that pragmatism for checking and reorientation can come in the form of legalization of information disclosure of collusive corrupt practices through provision of incentives. However, they have to always be supported by strong institutional and governance reforms at each level that deal with the implementation of any policies. These will be required for larger development of people in the villages through means of basics like power supply. Such provision will enhance the trust of people and then more people will quote in the way with which this scratch note started. At this juncture, when our country is marked by rifts between the have and have nots in the extreme rural areas, the decision and policy makers have no room for complacency to loose this trust that has developed and been developing amongst the villagers through some of the government schemes across India.