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Geetanjali Krishna: No power to the people

Geetanjali Krishna 

They say in the heat of the summer, when the sun beats mercilessly down on Sirohi, all that people can do is sweat under heavy high-tension wires overhead that carry power to more influential communities. The village receives power for barely five hours a day, making do the rest of the time with generators, hand-held fans, candles and when all else fails, heat and darkness. Given that the rural areas of Punjab and Haryana receive an average of over 10 hours of electricity daily, the once-prosperous village near Faridabad seems especially power-deprived.

“We’ve learnt to live without electricity,” says Sawan, a Sirohi local. We were sipping our afternoon tea under a tree, watching villagers finish their daytime chores while the daylight lasted. “Thanks to the poor power supply to Sirohi, our day begins at dawn and ends at dusk. It’s like a ghost town after eight!” he says. He recounts the time, a few years ago, when the predominantly Muslim locals mobbed the electricity department during the month of Ramzan. “It was impossible to fast without food and water during power outages in the summer!” recalls Sawan. As a result, the department magnanimously sanctioned 12 to 14 hours of electricity during the day during Ramzan. “We all wait for the holy month now, for it’s the only time when we get a glimpse of what life is like for people living in Delhi,” he says.

Together, we look at the findings of a need assessment survey conducted by Delhi-based Skilled Samaritan Foundation. Aimed at sustainable development to villages using local participation, the foundation is working in tandem with Engineers Without Borders to provide solar lanterns to 300 village households. The survey has found that not only is the village’s power supply meagre, it is qualitatively not very good. “Almost everyone in the village has had expensive electronic items like televisions and music systems get spoilt because of power surges,” says Sawan. It has also found that roughly 27-28 per cent of the houses in Sirohi have no meter connection.

But Gauri Agrawal, founder and executive director of the foundation, points out that villagers have few incentives to get authorised connections. “Our team has found that villagers are battling severe billing problems. Some villagers have reported receiving bills of Rs 2,400 for three months, when they say they use no more than two bulbs during the five hours when they have electricity supply. We calculate that this sort of reported usage shouldn’t cost more than Rs 750 for three months,” she says. Sawan points out that with such little incentive to apply for a connection, many people have resorted to “hooking” an unauthorised wire on the mains.

While most villagers run their agricultural implements on generators, the darkness post dusk is definitely a problem. I ask the large number of kids who’d taken it upon themselves to follow me around the village, how the lack of electricity affected their lives. “Though many of us have televisions, we can’t watch cartoons. There’s no power when we get home from school,” said one. Others laughingly said they used power cuts as an excuse for not completing their homework. And then a third asked innocently: “How many hours do daily power cuts last in Delhi?”

I leave Sirohi at dusk, wondering when the villagers will get their solar lanterns. Until then, powerless to do anything else, they’ll just have wait for the sun to rise...

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First Published: Sat, December 01 2012. 00:47 IST