UKHIMATH: When Arun Jaitley was telling the whole country in his Budget speech that he would achieve 100 per cent rural electrification in the country, he went unheard by the people of Gondar in Uttarakhand. The 80 households of the village, some 30 km from Ukhimath, have no power and therefore no TV.
Gondar is one of the 76 villages in Uttarakhand that have not been blessed by grid-supplied electricity since Independence. It gets by on unreliable solar power.
Jaitley’s promise brings a smile to the face of Gondar’s pramukh, Bir Singh. “We have heard it all before. If they were serious, it would have come by now?”
Villages like Gondar are hard to reach for the traveller as well as power supply. To get to Gondar, one has to reach Ransi village in Ukhimath block first and from there trek 7 km. Most of the villagers work as labourers or sell food to tourists going to Madhya Maheshwar temple 9 km from Gondar. Some households rent out rooms to those want to stay overnight.
Attempts have been made previously to connect Gondar to the state’s power grid. In 2013, a tiny substation was built but it was washed away in the Kedarnath floods just months later. It was repaired in 2016, but heavy rains ruined it again.
The fact that 76 villages in Uttarakhand have no electricity came to light when a Dehradun-based activist, Ajay Kumar, filed an RTI application. Most of the unlit villages are in Uttarkashi (31) and Pithoragarh (29) districts apart from a few in Tehri and Rudraprayag.
“It is shameful that 70 years after Independence, these villagers have to manage with kerosene lamps,” said Ajay Kumar.
After Ajay Kumar received his RTI response, he wrote to the Prime Minister's Office and got a response. The PMO reminded the Uttarakhand government that funds have been made available for electrification of these villages. But the state government ignored the PMO's direction. “I feel this was because of politics as it became a BJP vs Congress issue,'' said Ajay Kumar.
However, Uttarakhand Power Corporation (UPCL) officials said some poles were erected in these villages but they got washed away in the 2013 Kedarnath flood and subsequent weather events.
Now it’s back to the drawing board. "Estimates for power lines were made long ago. But it’s a difficult terrain,” said a senior official of UPCL. The deadline: end of 2017.
But deadlines have been missed before, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's time horizon of Dec3mber 2016 to rig up a power supply to 18,500 villages around the country. Out of the 18,500 dark villages in the PM’s ambitious plan, 7300 villages still remain to be covered.
It is an everyday struggle for the people of Gaundar. Struggling for basic needs like electricity, drinking water and road, the village has boycotted elections twice in the past. As polls approach on Feb. 15, the villagers are getting ready to boycott them once again.