Electrification? It’s nothing but a power play for villages

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Villagers in Asragaon, Haryana still wait for electricity, undermining government claims of 100% coverage. Photo: Sat Singh

The Modi government claimed late last month that all Indian villages have now been hooked up to the electricity grid, but it is news to people living in many rural regions. Some say that the only power connections being made in their district are political ones.

About 94% of the country had been electrified when the Congress-led UPA government left office in 2014, and union minister of power R K Singh says that the current administration has since connected the remaining villages — just over 18,000 in total.

The story is a little different in the villages themselves. Many report that while electricity has indeed reached transmission poles in their community, it hasn’t gone any further. Homes are still in darkness.

In Hisar district in the north Indian state of Haryana, just 10 km away from the New Delhi-Hisar-Sirsa National Highway, septuagenarian Surja Ram could be heard recently instructing his grandchildren to finish their schoolwork quickly, as the light would fade by 7pm.

“We don’t have electricity in our house. And we are not alone, there are 16 more hamlets here on the outskirts of Asranwan village who do not know the comforts of using a refrigerator, air-conditioner, cooler or fan,” said Surja, as he prepared his bed by laying a mosquito net around his charpoy.

‘How can she compete with  her classmates from other villages? She can only study as long as there is light’

Surja, who owns 10 acres of farmland, has lived in the hamlet for three decades and has spent much of that time pushing for an electricity connection, but to no avail.

Surja’s son, Ruli Ram, placed a hand on his daughter’s head and said that he wants her to study further, but does not think it will happen. “How can she compete with her classmates from other villages? They have electricity in their homes, and can study at night, but she can only study as long as there is natural light,” he said.

According to the annual report on Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana for 2016-17 by the National Institution of Transforming India (NITI Aayog), Haryana has achieved the goal of providing electricity to all rural households. But some at least have been bypassed.

Hisar district was the political stronghold of the former Haryana chief minister, the late Bhajan Lal, but even that didn’t help. Jeet Ram, father-in-law of sarpanch Rajbala from Asranwan, said that their village has more than 2,200 voters, mostly living off farming.

“When Bhajan Lal was chief minister of Haryana, we were hopeful of getting power connections to these 16 hamlets, popularly called ‘dhanis’ in Haryanvi, but it did not materialize after someone poisoned his ears that they do not vote for him,” Jeet recalled.

He said that candidates from all political parties would bring promises of an electricity connection within six months of being elected, but the people were tired of getting empty pledges for decades.

Sher Singh Jat, who also remains active in village politics, noted that those who contested parliamentary or assembly elections came to their houses only once every five years. “They shamelessly fold their hands and depart with promises of getting power connections, only to return again in five years empty-handed.”

Electrified villages only get power for seven to eight hours a day. The situation is no better in villages.

Attar Singh, head of the self-government body in nearby Adampur village, said there were also dozens of hamlets near his village that were still waiting for the electrification process to begin.

Sher Singh and Attar were dismissive of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim of 100% power coverage for villages in the country, saying it did not reflect the reality of the situation.

“There are scores of households in Adampur village that are without electricity just because of the fact that they are located far off from the main high tension/low tension line — where the village gets its regular supply,” said Attar, adding that electrified villages only get power for seven to eight hours each day. “The situation is no better in villages.”

More than 80 hamlets in the Barwala block of Hisar district have also missed out. Ram Kumar Bishnoi, a resident of Dhansu village in Barwala, said their hamlet had been waiting for power since it was built two decades back, despite promises from a political candidate.

He said people living in hamlets were able to put solar panels on their homes, but they could light only two bulbs at night-time. “Other than that, some of the farmers have diesel generators to source power to attend to important work,” he said.

Sher Singh said some residents used tractor lights to illuminate their homes for emergencies. The lack of electricity also makes it difficult to irrigate crops: farmers here find it hard to grow even traditional crops such as wheat, mustard and cotton.

Residents would have to pay to get power supplies. They expect the cost to be taken care off by the government.

Hisar superintendent engineer for Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Darsan Lal admitted that some hamlets in the district had not been electrified, but insisted residents would have to pay to get  household supplies.

“Earlier, the dhanis would get money via the MPLAD (Member of Parliament’s Local Area Development) scheme, but now, the electricity department is ready to give connections if residents deposit security and service charges of Rs 175 per meter. They expect the cost to be taken care off by the government,” Lal complained.

As of October 10, a total of 83,647 households had not been connected to the power grid, according to official data posted on the union government’s official website, saubhagya.gov.in. Yet an update just one day later showed that all these households had been electrified.

The latest report on the website states that 74,011 (92.51%) of households in Mewat, 18,034 (61.78%) in Yammunangar, 27,738 (83.27%) in Kaithal and 616 in Haryana’s Ambala district remain without electricity.

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