Government’s promise of rural electrification went unfulfilled till Shambhu’s video roused authorities from their slumber.
Every day after sunset, a group of families in a remote Rajasthan village lit their oil lamps. The children studied in the dim light, the women cooked in it and the families also hoped that it would ward off the panthers living in the surrounding hills. The families, all entitled to BPL (Below Poverty Line) benefits, had been living in darkness despite having had meters and poles installed under the government’s rural electrification scheme a year ago.
In the video, members of one family hold up the electricity meter that the Electricity Department installed, it is inactive and is rusting, just like the electricity poles. The community had been pursuing the department officials to activate the meters since August 2016. But they were made to run from pillar to post because the department insisted that it was the contractor’s job.
When Community Correspondent Shambhulal Khatik heard of the problem, he visited the village and met the aggrieved families. He wrote an application together with the community and started making a video documenting the issue in May 2017. “I went to the Electricity Department with some of the community members to interview the Executive Engineer for the video but he was not present. So, I gave the application to the others in the office. Later that day, I spoke to the Executive Engineer over the phone and he assured me that action would be taken based on the written application, and it was good that a video was also being made.”
Within three days, the Electricity Department forwarded the complaint to the contractor and the work began once again. In two months’ time, the meters were activated and the distressed families finally had access to electricity. “Now, I can study for my exams and do my homework properly”, says a schoolgirl whose home had no electricity for a year despite meters and poles. The families are glad that they can finally begin to use basic electronic devices like fans.
The government has made tall claims that 73% of the 18,452 villages identified for rural electrification by the Ministry of Power have been electrified. But in reality, only 8% of the homes in these villages have electricity. Under the Deendayal Upadhyay Rural Electrification Scheme (formerly the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme), a village is considered electrified if infrastructure like distribution transformers and lines are provided, public places like schools and health centres are electrified and at least 10% of the houses have electricity. Thanks to the gaps in the criteria, the government has been able to claim that 100% villages in 15 states and UTs and 90% villages in 19 states and UTs have been electrified. For Rajasthan, the cumulative figure for rural electrification was 99% according to government data in 2016. But the story of Kamali ka Guda paints a different picture.
Shambhulal’s video along with the community’s persistence ensured that the Electricity Department and the contractor were quick to act. For thousands of families living without basic amenities like electricity, the government’s promises and claims mean nothing. This video shows how a community’s efforts can bring an impact and we hope that more communities are able to avail the basic facilities and benefits that they are entitled to.
Article by Alankrita Anand