Sitraruvipatti, a hamlet without electricity, cries for attention
At a time when the city is marching on its path to development, a village on its periphery reels in darkness.
A 22 km drive on the Alagarkoil road and a four-kilometre walk on the rocky man-made path surrounded by thorny wild bushes take you to the tiny hamlet of Sitraruvipatti.
Not many outsiders knew about this rural community in the foothills of Alagarmalai till the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) watershed programme reached there. “We first identified the place when we started our watershed programme in the nearby Kesampatti village,” says R. Shankar Narayan, Assistant General Manager, NABARD.
The hamlet is deprived of basic facilities. Around 25 families reside here in 15 houses. Most of the houses are thatched, while some are concrete structures with asbestos roofing. They draw drinking water from a nearby well. Their main occupation is agriculture.
Numerous appeals to the district authorities at the grievance day meeting and to the local body at the Gram Sabha meeting did not fetch the desired result. The villagers have now learnt to live without electricity. “We are basically farmers and our children are not interested in going to school,” says A. Sekkadiyan, one of the inhabitants. “How do you expect kids to walk four to five kilometres everyday for their studies?” he asks. “Even to charge a mobile phone we have to go to nearby Sambranipatti where we have to pay Rs.5.”
“Political parties promise a lot when they visit us once in five years,” says N. Ayyavu, who has lived here since 1962. “But nothing came forward after that.”
“I was surprised to see such a place at close proximity to the city,” says Shankar Narayanan. “Access to this hamlet is also difficult as there is no proper road. Children find it hard to study in the evenings as they don’t have electricity. Then, we decided to get them solar-powered lights.”
When Shankar Narayan asked the Selco Solar Electric Light Company representatives to visit the spot, they inspected and worked out the modalities for installing solar lights. “We did an energy assessment and based on that provided solar panels and lights,” says S. Nambirajan, senior executive (projects) of the company. “Each installation costs Rs.25,600. Each beneficiary has to pay 10 per cent of the amount as margin while 40 per cent is the NABARD’s subsidy. The company has arranged for soft loans through Indian Overseas Bank to pay the balance 50 per cent.”
Selco organised several awareness programmes for the residents to make them understand the advantages of solar energy and cleared their doubts. “We have provided each installation with a solar panel, three electric bulbs, one pedestal fan, a mobile charging unit and a charger regulator,” explains Selvaraj Suthakar, business associate of the company.
He adds, “We also provide one year free service for the product. Initially, people were reluctant to accept. We have to do a lot of convincing job. But now, they find it very useful.”
“The solar lights are put to good use,” says Ayyavu. “The add-on benefit is that now we are able to roam around freely in the night because the number of bison straying into our place from the hills has reduced considerably. Our children appearing for board examinations are already showing good interest and study till late in the night.”
NABARD has planned to develop agri-eco tourism in this place. Says Shankar Narayanan, “We have talked to district authorities for providing a proper access to Sitraruvipatti. The place has enormous potential for eco-tourism ventures with its serene surroundings and plenty of green cover.”