At a time when India posits itself as a future superpower, the residents of Dharuapalli wait for electricity to irrigate their land, charge their phones and study after dark.
Cashless villages and paperless offices have become buzzwords in the age of Digital India. In a push for transparent and efficient governance, grievances are supposed to be reported and addressed by the mere click of a button rather than multiple visits to the concerned government office. At such a time, cellular connectivity is not an indulgence but a necessity; but the lack of electricity often deprives people of this crucial facility.
Over the last five months, VV’s network of community correspondents gathered over 150 testimonies on access to and the quality of electricity connection for the #BattiGul campaign. One of the problems that found frequent mention was that people could not charge their mobile phones. On one hand, the government is strongly pushing towards digitisation, especially in the fields of administration, monitoring and grievance redressal mechanisms. On the other hand, it has failed to connect all villages and households to the power grid, often the first step or a precursor.
Situated on the banks of the Suktel river in Balangir, Odisha, Dharupalli is a village that has been living under the threat of eviction due to the Lower Suktel Irrigation Project for over 15 years now. Here, there has been no electricity “despite 70 years of independence”, says Ganesh, a farmer from the village.
The first problem he mentions is that of cellular connectivity. According to research, 88 percent households in India now own mobile phones, pointing towards how utilitarian and universal the device and the services that it brings with it, have become.
Another major problem Ganesh faced is that he is unable to irrigate his land because he cannot use an electric pump, a factor that is directly affecting his means of livelihood.
Apart from feeling cut off from the world, his family also has difficulty going about daily chores like cooking after sunset. Moreover, living in the dark also makes them vulnerable to accidents and to disease-carrying insects.
“Children cannot study after dark, whatever little kerosene we get, we use to light the fire for cooking,” says Nilabati, another Dharuapalli resident. This is another recurring problem reported by respondents across India. In Dharupalli, the community cannot hold social gatherings either.
In another part of Odisha, lack of electricity is forcing a fishing community to migrate from their village. The community, like many others who migrate, stands the risk of losing their traditional means of livelihood. Moreover, their access to crucial facilities might be further hampered as a migrant community elsewhere.
For official purposes, Dharuapalli is part of Kapilbahal village, with both habitations being on either side of the Suktel. While most households one the Kapilbahal side have been electrified, the residents of Dharuapalli are yet to get their connections. According to government data, only 74 out of 170 households in Kapilbahal have been electrified.
When Community Correspondent Satyanarayan Banchhor first visited the community in May 2018, they were waiting for a response to the application they had submitted to the Electricity Department at the district-level. Satyanarayan then visited the Executive Engineer to enquire about the status of electrification of households below the poverty line. The official assured that the Department is working to electrify all households since the village-level targets had been met.
In August, the Electricity Department began to install electricity poles and wires, however, the households still haven’t been link to the grid. The community is now awaiting this final step.
To ensure that Dharuapalli is brought out of the darkness at the earliest, call Ashish Pattjoshi, the Executive Engineer of Balangir, at +91-9473058076 and request him to get the connection running immediately.
Video by Community Correspondent Satyanarayan Banchhor
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team