KRISHNAGIRI: Hope is a cruel mistress. It was the crippling burden borne by the tribal residents of Bettamugilalam panchayat for decades. Each time they shot off a representation to officials, they hoped action would be taken to plot their cluster of hill hamlets on the map of electrified villages.
While the nation marched towards 100 per cent electrification recently, the villagers here returned to their earthen lamp-lit huts, much like their forebears, with hope. So, when a bulb in the hut of V Chinnamallan, an octogenarian tribal from Kottayur Kollai, finally lighted up after the hamlet got its power connection on Wednesday, he could hardly contain his tears. Chinnamallan’s village was among the 10 that got power connection after years of wait.
“I always hoped that my village would get power connection. The decades-long wait finally ended today,” said Chinnamallan, thanking The New Indian Express for campaigning for over a year to address the woes in the hill cluster.
Last month, 81 houses from 10 villages were sanctioned power connection. While 37 tribal and six caste Hindu houses got power connection in the first phase last month, the remaining eight tribal and 30 caste Hindu house were connected to the grid on Wednesday.Nestled in the verdant hills of Krishnagiri, Bettamugilalam panchayat, just 120 km from district headquarters, comprises 47 villages, of which 21 are Irula community villages.
‘Hitherto, our lives were in the dark’
While the beauty of the village cluster makes it an ideal candidate for village and eco-tourism, the veneer of rustic life hides a clutch of socio-economic problems. Most of the residents are anaemic; a majority of the children have dropped out of school; incidence of child marriage is notoriously high; high rate of infant mortality has not been addressed.
Express first detailed the plight of the villages in July last when one S Sakthivel (29), a resident of Bettamugilalam, gave this reporter the lead. When a report appeared in these columns, officials largely ignored it. When a similar effort was made in November last, officials continued to feign ignorance. However, Express brought the issue to the notice of Krishnagiri district Superintendent Engineer of TNEB K Nandha Gopal, who guided the villagers on the procedure to get a power connection. K Nandha Gopal, incidentally, accompanied this correspondent on the three-km uphill trek to the tribal villages in May last to assess the situation.
The paperwork involved officials handing over an application form to Sakthivel, who took 90 copies, visited far-flung villages, filled the forms, attached house tax receipts from January last and furnished them to the officials. After a four-month wait, the officials gave green signal to the electrification works.
While Department of Rural Development and local bodies were instrumental in delaying the process, Denkanikottai Assistant Director of TNEB S Jagannathan’s swift action ensured that the villagers’ wait was not prolonged further, with 40 personnel going into an overdrive to erect 71 electricity poles to bring the villages under power cover in under two months.
M Muniyamma (13), a class VIII tribal student at Panchayat Union Middle School in Kottayur Kollai, is elated. Now, she can watch television and can study at night.“Earlier, I used to study by the light of a lamp or a small solar lamp, with a three-hour life,” she adds. The development and the related elation is summed up by C Chinnamalli (65). “Hitherto, our lives were in the dark. Now, it is changing for the better,” she says.