When the sun trails off on the horizon, the light literally goes out of the lives of residents of Fajalpur Haibat, a small hamlet in Najibabad block of Bijnor district in Uttar Pradesh. Until daybreak, that is. Villagers of this primarily Dalit settlement have never experienced electricity in their homes. On paper though, Fajalpur Haibat was “electrified” in August 2015.
Clad in dhoti and a worn-out white kurta, Puran Singh, 52, welcomes me with folded hands at his doorstep, next to a small plot which doubles as garbage dump for the village. Even as I talk about “electrification”, Mr. Singh points towards the road — no sign of electric poles or power infrastructure anywhere. Another resident of the area, Yogendar, starts laughing at the very mention of “ bijli ” (electricity).
Clearly, the small crowd of Mr. Singh’s neighbours knows nothing about the Narendra Modi government’s flagship scheme of rural electrification, Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. It is when I open the GARV mobile app to show the status of their village, which declares it to be “electrified”, that their patience runs out. “ Saab, kya baat karte ho! Ye bhi accha mazak hai ! (What are you saying, sir? This is a joke!) We use kerosene-lit dhibris (traditional lamps). Some of us who can afford them have emergency torches,” says Yashpal.
Mr. Singh’s grandson, eight-year-old Amit, pulls me away to show me his school, the local government primary school which functions without electricity. “Many of my classmates come from the next village which has electricity. They get to study comfortably at night. I can barely see in the dhibri light,” he says.
When confronted with the village’s status on the app, Abhay Singh, one of the Gram Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs) who supervises work in Najibabad block, claims GVAs report about the situation on the ground; real-time updates on the app are done elsewhere. “There are other villages in Najibabad block like Salempur which have seen light after decades of darkness but Fajalpur Haibat is certainly a completely un-electrified village,” he says.
Danger in the dark Some 50 km from Fajalpur Haibat, electricity is a matter of life and death in Firozpur Darga village of Mohammadpur block. For the family of Prashant Mondal and the other Bengali migrant labourers who make up this small settlement of mud-and-straw houses on the banks of the Ganges, wild animals from the adjoining jungles straying into their village at night is a perennial threat. Government records show this village as having been electrified in September last year. The reality is that electric poles were fixed just two months ago. And that’s where the electrification project stays for now.
I spot a small solar panel on one side of Mr. Mondal’s thatch roof. “This helps charge our phones during daytime. We can’t afford a battery,” he explains. The cell phone is their only way to connect with the next village and seek help during night-time emergencies. And cheaper made-in-China torches are a godsend.
Another Bijnor-based GVA who initially disputed the claims of exaggeration in numbers of electrified villages on the GARV app later backtracked with an explanation.
“When I asked my bosses about this, they said we should be concerned only with the ground report,” he said.
As I was leaving Fajalpur Haibat, Puran Singh sighed, “It would be nice to die after watching television in my own house”.
The Centre claims to be fulfilling the Prime Minister’s plan for full rural electrification. But a close check of its own real-time data shows that the gap between official claims and ground reality is stark. > Read more
On paper, electrified villages — in reality, darkness