Syed Tahir Shah
In 2018, the Indian Government had announced electrification of all inhabited villages in the country. This massive accomplishment had filled new hopes in lives of millions of people residing in the rural and remote areas. After waiting for several years, a power line had finally reached their area. After completing the first most important process of electrification, the task at hand for the Government now was to connect each household with the power line. Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or Saubhagya aimed at achieving exactly this by ensuring electrification of all willing households in the country in rural as well as urban areas.
In November this year, villages in some of the most isolated regions of Jammu and Kashmir which were deprived of electricity since independence finally received electricity connection under the Saubaghya scheme. Now, the third step for the Government is to ensure uninterrupted electric supply. In J&K’s border district of Poonch, villagers are waiting to get continuous supply of electricity for several years now. Shendra village in Haveli tehsil of this district consists of two panchayats and is inhabited by a population of about 10,000 people. One of the prime concerns of this area is the severe shortage of power supply. The situation is such that villagers do not even hope for a 24-hour uninterrupted supply but wish for the power to stay continuously for at least an hour in a day.
As per villagers, they face frequent power cuts – sometimes they get electricity only for 20-30 minutes. The situation gets worse during monsoon and winter season. The moment it starts raining, this region faces complete black out. On lucky days, they get electricity, but the voltage is so low that they cannot even charge their mobile phones.
Syed Nisar Hussain Shah, a resident of the Shendra village, said that there is shortage of transformers in their area. “Here, more than 50 households get power supply from a single 25 KV transformer. Due to high load on this one transformer, the power voltage remains low leading to breakdown of the transformer. It takes over two weeks to get the transformer repaired and during that time, the villagers have to spend their days and nights without electricity,” rued Nisar. According to him, around 400 people live in Ward 9 of the Lower Panchayat Shendra but there is no transformer.
According to Shahid Bukhari, a local resident of Ward 1, the distance to the grid station is also a major reason for frequent power cuts. The grid station is located in Block Lisana located about ten kilometers from Shendra village. Several villages depend on this one grid station for electricity. “As Shendra is a big village, it should have its own grid station. Our Panchayat had raised the issue of power in the ‘Back to Village’ program and the matter was taken up with the top officials of the Electricity Department but to no avail,” shared Shahid. He also expressed his disappointment towards the impolite behavior of the officers of the concerned department who try to shed responsibility when enquired about power cut specially during night. For Shahid, lack of electricity is a major reason why villages like his cannot become part of “Digital India’.
Talking about the electricity situation in the village, Sahil Qadri, Chairman of Welfare Society Jammu and Kashmir, highlighted the issue of lack of electric poles in the region. “There is a severe shortage of electric poles in these far-flung villages which forces people to tie wires to trees. This is a dangerous practice and requires immediate attention of the authorities,” said Sahil.
In the times of the ongoing pandemic, when classes are being conducted online, electricity has become an essential requirement. Earlier, children would manage by completing their homework during daytime. Now, they need to have their mobile phones charged the entire time to be able to attend classes without any interruption. The current electricity situation, however, doesn’t support the online education of these children residing in the far-off villages.
Electricity, in 2020, should certainly be treated as a basic commodity. The participation of rural communities in flagship programmes of the Central Government like Digital India will only be possible when quality of electric supply is improved in these areas. In the last few years, efforts of the Government have been in the right direction and people are hopeful that the matter would be treated fairly by the concerned authorities.
Syed Tahir Shah