Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government has successfully electrified 100% of rural India rings hollow in many villages across states where people still live in the dark.
Asia Times assessed the reality of the claim in a few states and found several villages not only without electricity, but lacking even basic development.
The government deems a village electrified even if only 10% of its households, besides public places such as schools and health centers, are connected to a power grid. Even by this definition, there are many rural pockets in the country that are not electrified.
A pipe dream in Assam
For the residents of Khankarchak village in Assam state, electricity is only a pipe dream as they use candles and lanterns at night.
“The villagers believe they are doomed to live without electricity. Our children can’t study at night because of no power,” 36-year-old Faruque Ahmed told Asia Times. “The villagers even requested the local legislator to intervene, but nothing came of it,” Ahmed, the president of a local committee of the Aam Aadmi Party, said.
Another resident, 60-year-old Samas Uddin, said the lack of street lights made commuting dangerous, particularly during the rainy season. “Commuting becomes all the more risky when we have to take a patient to a hospital after sunset,” he added.
The village has a population of 4,000-5,000. Villagers charge their mobile phones at a market about three kilometers from the village. However, power outages have been a perennial problem in the market area too, they say.
The situation is similar in several villages in the same Karimganj South constituency, and in villages in other Assembly constituencies of Assam like Patharkandi, Oilamcherra, Kalacherra, Ratabari and Rushnabad.
Aziz Ahmed Khan, the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Karimganj South, said about 35 villages in his constituency had yet to be electrified. “The prime minister is certainly unaware about the reality on the ground,” he said.
He told Asia Times that he discussed the matter with Assam Power Minister Tapan Gogoi and the minister assured him he would visit these villages and submit a report to the government. The minister added that work to electrify them would start “soon.” The MLA said he was hoping to see the villages electrified within three months.
Karimganj North MLA Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha also called the 100% rural electrification claim baseless, saying about 30% of the villages in his constituency did not have power. He said work would start “soon” to identify the villages without power and that about 95% of them would have electricity by the end of the year.
Kallol Debroy, the sub-divisional engineer of the Nilambazar Electricity Division (Karimganj South), said villages without power would be electrified through the scheme called Saubhagya, which was launched in September 2017 and aimed at providing electricity to all households by December 2018.
‘Forgotten’ in Jammu and Kashmir
Made up of 60 households, the Tathan Top hamlet in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district has no roads, potable water or other infrastructure.
“The administration has forgotten us,” said resident Zaffar Ullah Khan. No state government has taken any steps to provide electricity or other basic facilities, he added.
Elderly local Aalam Deen said people had been using firewood as light for more than 70 years. “I have spent all my life in this darkness. The government did provide us some portable lighting gadgets once, but those did not last more than a month,” he said.
Fayaz Ahmed Shah, the assistant executive engineer in the local Power Development Department, said he was transferred to the department only recently and did not know why the hamlet did not have electricity. He said he would look into the matter. Anantnag deputy commissioner Mohammad Younis Malik also promised to take up the issue.
Neglect in Uttar Pradesh
In Uttar Pradesh, Chiraundha village in Barabanki district is the epitome of neglect. Populated by the marginalized Dalit community, the village has a public health center but no doctors, and a primary school but only one teacher, who also cleans the school and prepares the government-mandated mid-day meal.
Malti Devi, 35, a village resident and mother of two, said she travels four kilometers every day to charge a battery used to power fans. “The days are getting hotter and hotter and without a fan, it is very hard to manage. I go and pay Rs 20 to get it charged. The exercise sometimes turns out to be very tough, but I do not have any other option,” she said.
Rajesh Kumar, 40, a farmer, said the villagers had sent an application to the local electricity department to get the power connected, but to no avail.
“People come here to beg for votes, and in return, we have been getting fake promises that electricity will come to the village, roads will be constructed and overall development work will happen,” he said, adding that he had lost all hope of having electricity in his village.
According to Barabanki District Magistrate Udai Bhan Tripathi, the electrification of the village was delayed due to the construction of roads and because of the non-availability of a village map. “The biggest problem is erecting poles in the village, as the villagers do not want anything on their farming land. Our department has no option but to erect it there. There are no proper roads for taking the 50 KV transformer.” But he added that the work to connect the village would be complete “within two or three months.”
The cases above are far from isolated. Asia Times reported last month how scores of households in Haryana were living in darkness.
It is the same in many villages in Odisha state. Bankisole village in Baripada district, for example, has transformers, electric wires and electric meters installed in households, but no electricity.
Residents of the village pay Rs 5 per day to charge their mobile phones and LED lights from urban areas nearby. Villagers claim that when they approach authorities, they get advised to collect donations from each household towards the cause.
(The authors are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)