This village in UP counters government's 100% rural electrification claim

“This area has no electricity. I was born here, and I have never seen electricity here.”

Dashmi Kumar belongs to Pannapur village in Chirayigaon, Varanasi. As the night falls, the entire village is blanketed in darkness; all life grinds to a halt. Since many households do not have access to electricity, work must pause, and children must stop playing and studying,

In his Independence Day address to the nation in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had noted that 18,500 villages in India – such as Pannapur, presumably – did not have electricity, and he promised to change that reality within the next 1000 days. In September 2017, the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or SAUBHAGYA) was launched, envisaging last mile connectivity and total electrification by March 2019. In 987 days – short of the promised 1000 – on 28 April, 2018 the promise was supposedly fulfilled, declared in the now infamous tweet by PM Modi himself.

Unfortunately, the claim does not hold true at the ground level. For a village to be considered electrified by the government, power cables from the grid have to reach a transformer in each village and only 10% of its households, as well as public places such as schools and health centres, need to be connected. Which is why if households such as Seema’s, a resident of Pannapur and a member of one of these 14-odd households, are still functioning without electricity, it does not figure in the official count. “We don’t know about these government guidelines, we only know that we live without power,” says Seema curtly.

While the SAUBHAGYA website, equipped with an electrification tracker, claims that 100% of rural households in Uttar Pradesh have been electrified under the scheme, Chirayigaon has only 413 electrified households as of 2017. Presently, all 5563 households in the block are said to have been electrified after the release of 5150 connections under this scheme, but there are no official records for the number of houses that are not covered – only personal tales of misery.

“They have installed some meters, we can see, but there are no electrical poles or wiring that have been connected to them,” explains Lalman, another Chirayigaon local. Dashmi Kumar adds, “Yes, meters have been installed, but still there is no supply. Supply is what matters.” With the “showpiece-like” meters installed only six months ago, villagers are convinced that this is only a desperate push with the elections nearing.

In the meanwhile, the villagers get by with jugaad. “We just have to use rechargeable batteries to do our work and get by,” explains Lalman, in reference to the rechargeable solar lamps and torches that so many wield here. “But not everyone has these rechargeable batteries, and people are not willing to lend it either,” Hiravati Devi points out. The more popular means in Pannapur seem to be oil lamps, though they come with their own share of problems.

“The one litre of kerosene oil we get is nowhere near sufficient for our daily requirements,” Devi says, referring to the monthly allotment of oil for ration card holders, “Sometimes we’re forced to burn our mustard oil too.” Plus, there are bad days. “Sometimes shopkeepers deny giving it to us when we need it the most,” says Lalman, “We go without it in those days.”

The price of a litre of kerosene, even when sold at heavily subsidised rates through the PDS, has steadily been on the rise throughout 2018 – a phenomenon in tandem with the market price for oil that has risen across the globe. “Because of the inflation we cannot even afford to buy kerosene oil outside of the rations — should we eat or buy the oil?” remarks Seema.

It’s a lose-lose situation for Pannapur. Ajay Kumar, the Action JE for the district, shrugs off any and all responsibility for the problem, “If, according to you, 12-13 houses still don’t have electricity, we will work to resolve this issue shortly. I will be sure to raise this issue in the next Gram Sabha meeting, and bring it up with the concerned government department.” Echoing PM Modi’s promise unwittingly, in what sounds like a mocking paraphrase of the 15 August 2015 speech, he adds, “It is only a few houses. Everyone will eventually get electricity.”

What does that leave the Pannapur residents with? “Torches, diyas and candles. We’ll just continue to use them,” says Dashmi Kumar, a man who was born in Pannapur, and hasn’t seen electricity in his house since.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.

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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2019 15:41:50 IST