A survey across 32 villages in nine districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two states that have seen a surge in return of migrant labourers from other states, shows that only one per cent of all respondents have access to good health services. Most of the respondents to the survey, conducted by Rockefeller Foundation-backed Smart Power India (SPI), said they were dependent on nearby government facilities in case of serious illness. Eighty per cent respondents said they were affected by the lockdown but not very badly, while 40 per cent did not report significant economic impact, as agriculture-based livelihood was their main source of income. Forty-eight per cent of economic activity was impacted till April 15 in these villages. The mini grid customer segment, running shops and engaged in other commercial activities, has been the most affected by the lockdown due to closed or broken supply chains. Most respondents in this segment were worried about revival of their business. Ninety-nine per cent respondents claimed a positive change in hygiene behaviour, with 67 per cent stating significant positive change in social hygiene behaviour in community. The perceived change is based on hand-washing practices, social distancing. etc.lockdown and were confined to their homes.
And they were using more appliances. As a result, the grid-connected electricity consumption went up,” said SPI Chief Executive Jaideep Mukherji. For example, due to re-telecast of classics like Ramayana, there was an increased demand for electricity. However, the mini-grid power consumption remained the same since it is distributed in packages. A mini grid is decentralised renewable energy system where both power generation and distribution are done through energy supply companies that are not connected through the grid network.
Mukherji said: “As the survey points out, despite a major disruption in economic activities in mini-grid villages, availability of healthcare services and the Jan Dhan Yojana benefits have continued to be available for the rural population. A major contributing factor here is the presence of mini grids in villages.”
Nearly 21 per cent of respondents said they had seen a positive increase in the availability of healthcare professionals and improvement in service quality.
The mini-grid villages, however, have been badly hit by prolonged absence of economic activities leaving them with very few options for livelihood. But power supply from mini grid fared well, with nearly 90 per cent of the respondents stating they were satisfied with the supply. “Access to affordable electricity is a key component of rural development. Reliable power supply, especially in times of crises like this one, will ensure seamless delivery of essential services like healthcare, education (online learning) and internet connectivity,” added Mukherji.