At the mercy of contractors
Electrification work in villages is carried out through contractors and these contractors, who are in charge of all the work on the ground, are the primary point of contact for villagers in case of any queries or complaints. In all the villages surveyed over the two blocks, it was evident that the performance of the contractor was the most important factor in successful implementation of electrification.
Chunglo village in Bengabad block, despite being crossed off as an electrified village in March 2015, is yet to experience a reliable and consistent supply. And the village residents blame the local contractor. “We thought our struggle for electricity would end once our village was connected to the grid. But, 15 months later, there seems to be no end to it,” says Laljit Sahu, a resident of Chunglo village. Sahu and other villagers allege that the local contractor demanded Rs 20,000 from the village to set up the infrastructure for electrification, though the cost should be borne by the state. “We paid the money and had to literally plead with the contractor to get the lines set up and the transformers installed. And yet, he did a shoddy job. Whenever there are rains or even slightly stormy weather, there is a power cut,” says Sanjay Mandal, another resident. He adds that the local contractor has also stopped answering their phone calls and repairs have to be carried out at the local level at the villagers’ expense.
A similar story is unfolding in Mahuatand village which was electrified only in mid-May this year. Around 60 of the 80 houses have been covered by the electrification drive. But houses on the periphery have been left out. In just two weeks, the village experienced three power cuts that have lasted around three to four days each. Residents say that despite paying around Rs 30,000 to the local contractor, most materials and labour for the wiring had to be provided to him. “Basically all the work here has been done by locals. We have received almost no support from the contractor who only came to the village to set up the transformers. One of them doesn’t even function. We are scared how this set up will withstand the monsoons,” says Ashok Yadav, a villager involved in the electrification process. Yadav’s fear seems justified. Wires are flimsily wound around the electric poles, and the poles have been installed without adequate footing. Along the highway that connects Bengabad town to Mahuatand, just 15 minutes of stormy weather was enough to topple the electric poles like dominoes.
Bijaiya village finally got electricity after multiple hunger fasts and petitions in December last year. The villager residents paid almost Rs 40,000 to the contractor on the promise of a refund (which hadn’t come till June). Despite all 130 houses in the village having been connected, there are many complaints. “The service and maintenance is pitiable and our contractor is never to be found when needed. Our wires get cut all the time by miscreants from nearby villages where several electricians live. I think we have spent more time without electricity than with it even after installation,” says 70-year-old Radha Devi.