Total electrification puts out tribals' kerosene lamps

For tribal families living in geographically isolated hamlets deep inside the forest, grid connectivity remains a dream.
A thing of the past! (Image used for representational purpose only)
A thing of the past! (Image used for representational purpose only)(Photo | Pexels)

KOCHI: As twilight fades, Thera, a remote tribal hamlet located deep inside the Kuttampuzha forest in Ernakulam district slips into darkness. Children struggle to read with the help of candles and men trudge their way to the hamlet through dark forest lanes.

On May 29, 2017, Kerala declared itself as the first fully electrified state in India. But the price for the status has been heavy. The Union government cut down the allocation of kerosene, making tribal people destined to live in eternal darkness. For tribal families living in geographically isolated hamlets deep inside the forest, grid connectivity remains a dream.

The state which received 37,056 kilo litres of subsidised kerosene in 2020-21, received a rude shock as the Centre cut down the allocation to 7,776 kilo litres in 2023-24. The allocation has been further reduced to 3,120 kilo litres for 2024-25. “The Union government says that it is a policy decision to reduce use of kerosene and we have to provide solar lamps to communities living in remote areas. But the government needs time to install solar units in remote villages,” said Minister for Civil Supplies G R Anil.

“Not just tribal people, those living in high ranges face power outages during monsoon season and they depend on kerosene lamps. We have written several letters to the Union government seeking to increase the allocation. Presently the marginalised sections receive 250 ml of kerosene a month. As the number of beneficiaries is less, collecting the monthly allocation brings financial burden to ration dealers. We have requested the centre to reschedule the distribution allowing us to take the allocation once in four months,” he told TNIE.

Anil said he would go to Delhi after the assembly concludes to meet Union minister for food and public distribution seeking to raise the allocation of rice and kerosene. “I have sought the support of minister Suresh Gopi to press our demand,” he said.

According to the tribal welfare department, there are 49 tribal hamlets in the state without grid connectivity. The KSEB has taken steps to lay underground cables to 19 tribal hamlets. The government has roped in Agency for New and Renewable Energy Research and Technology (ANERT) to install solar units in 30 remote hamlets where grid connectivity is impossible. “There is no power connectivity in the hamlets of Thera, Variyam, Anchukudi, Uriampetty and Kotakuthu. Though power lines have been extended to Kunchipara and Thalavachapara hamlets, electrification of houses has not been completed. People in remote hamlets need kerosene as there is a constant presence of elephant herds in the area. Many families have complained about the non-availability of kerosene,” said Kanthi Vellakayyan, a tribal and president of Kuttampuzha panchayat.

“The tribal hamlets are always under threat of wild animals and we use kerosene torches to escape from wild animals. The hamlets of Appankappu, Iruttukuthy and Vaniyampuzha are remote and there is no power connectivity. The families rehabilitated after the Kavalappara landslide in 2019 have not been provided grid connectivity. The lack of electricity poses hurdles in shifting ailing patients to hospital during night hours,” said Chitra Nilambur, a tribal activist of Pothukal in Nilambur.

“A few years ago we used to get 4 litres of kerosene a month. Now the allocation has been reduced to 250 ml a month and many beneficiaries have not received the allocation for more than a year. Though most of the houses here are electrified, we need kerosene as the power distribution gets disrupted frequently during rainy season. Besides, the tribals going to the woods to collect forest produce need kerosene,” said Geetha, a tribal head of Vazhachal in Thrissur district.

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