The poor citizen's access to power
Electricity has eluded Tijola Gond's house in Rahunia village. He was denied an electricity connection because he failed to provide a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card. Gond says officials ask residents like him to shell out Rs 2,500 if they want a connection. The amount may not seem very high, but for tribals who have been facing a drought for the past five years, every paisa counts. "In this drought, arranging meals for the family is a challenge. How will we arrange money for electricity?" he asks. Ten per cent of households in every village that Down To Earth visited had not been connected to the grid because of the residents’ inability to provide BPL cards. People complain that getting a BPL card made depends on many factors such as relations with the sarpanch. Devi Singh from Gujar, who has neither a BPL card nor the money for an electricity connection, says, “People who have land and tractors can get the card made easily, but poor people like us cannot.”
In a few cases, it was difficult to pinpoint the reason behind the lack of electricity connections. For instance, Shakuntala Bai of Mahuadol village does not have a connection despite having a BPL card. She says, “The electrician assured me saying he would come to connect my house ‘tomorrow’. But the tomorrow never arrived.”
In unelectrified villages, residents are still struggling to get basic services. In Galidara village, which is 12 km from the main road, the hope for electricity is renewed before every election. “Electricity can change the fate of the village,” says resident Suraj Prasad Pandey. “Politicians promise to bring electricity every time there’s an election. But nothing happens once the election is over.”
In Katahari Bilhata, electric poles were installed around 25 years ago and there was electricity for a couple of days. Since then, village residents are still waiting. They have to walk downhill for two kilometres every time they have to fetch drinking water. Ram Pyare Gond, a 35-year-old tribal, says, “If there had been electricity, at least fetching water would have been an easy task.” These villages still rely on firewood for cooking and kerosene for light, he says. Gauri Singh, a 50-year-old farmer from Panari, says, “These days, even the forest department questions us when we enter the forest for firewood. They are not as strict with women, so they go to collect firewood instead.”
Sanjeev Kumar Gond from Manki is a commerce student who studies in Panna. He says the lack of electricity does not motivate students to study as it is difficult to read and write in the light of kerosene lanterns. “When electric poles were erected, everyone had hoped that things would change for the better. But nothing has happened,” he says.