Manish Chandra Mishra | Mar 28, 2019 | 7 min read
MADHYA PRADESH: WAITING FOR ELECTRICITY
By Manish Chandra Mishra
Village Kota Gunjapur, located within the Panna tiger reserve, does not have two basic amenities. An access road, and electricity. The roar of the tiger reverberates in the village often at night. Villagers have lost cattle from tiger attacks. But the small village, inhabited by 300 residents of 80 households, all Gond tribals, remains dark and isolated from its neighbouring villages Akola, Manji, Kataria all of which have been electrified.
We decided to visit Kota Gunjapur village, about 20 kilometres from Panna district headquarters. The real struggle to reach the village begins after a 10 km ride into the tiger reserve, one of five tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, spanning an area of 542 sq kms.
A seven-kilometre bumpy ride took us to a nearby village. The next three kilometres was a veritable natural obstacle course of fields and jungle. We finally reached a broken fence, the only entrance to Kota Gunjapur. The forest department had apparently blocked access with fencing and rocks, but the villagers removed a part of it to create access.
After traversing a narrow pathway through the jungle, the village itself was quite a contrast to its surroundings. It has a primary school, concrete roads, about 30 pucca houses under the PM’s housing scheme and some handpumps. But no electricity.
Our trip was to verify claims made by the state and central government that the state had achieved 100 per cent electrification. But Kota Gunjapur presents a very different reality compared to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that his government has achieved 100 per cent electrification of all villages in India with the last village of Leisang in Manipur being connected to the power grid.
The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHGAYA) was launched in MP on December 22, 2017. About 45 lakh un-electrified households were to be included under this scheme. State government records claim that it has achieved 100 percent electrification with no village left in Panna left in the dark. Why or how the unelectrified Kota Gunjapur does not figure in these records is not clear.
The village residents were celebrating Holi when we arrived, dancing to Bhojpuri songs. Some kids had managed to connect their amplifier to a solar plate provided by the village panchayat for street lights. "The village is classified a revenue village which is why government schemes have been implemented here. We have everything except electricity,” said Ram Vishal, a young villager. Officials say there is no legal issue in giving electricity to this village. “Acting on our application the electricity department sent 40 electricity poles in May 2017,” said Ram Vishal. “But they never came back to begin the work and now in March 2019 they came to take the poles back. The villagers protested and saved 20 electricity poles which are still lying in the village”.
The villagers' many applications to the district collector, electricity department and forest department and even a protest at the district headquarters last year got no response. Even approaching the CM has not helped. District collector Manoj Khatri would only say "let me check and then I'll take necessary action to provide electricity."
Yousuf Beg, a local activist, claims the administration is harassing the villagers to force them to leave the village. But the village panchayat has made it clear that they will not leave. “The villagers have been living in the jungle for hundreds of years,” said Yousef Beg. “So the administration is trying to cut supply lines to the village”.
Beg also alleged that the collector’s direction to other departments to provide electricity has been ignored. “We have been struggling for the basic rights of villagers for three years but no one has responded,” added Beg
Beg also said another five to six villages in Panna district do not have electricity connections. “The electricity board transmits electricity till the villages’ border but villagers are not able to use the connection,” said Beg.
Assistant director of Panna Tiger Reserve R K Saxena said there is no legal problem in providing electricity in any village in the Panna Tiger Reserve. "Officers of Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board always blame the tiger reserve authority for lack of electricity,” said Saxena. “But we have made an online system where the board can easily get a No Objection Certificate”. O P Soni, the electricity board engineer responsible for connections in the area, refused to comment on this issue.
Students in the village are the worst affected by lack of electricity as they are unable to study after sunset. "The village looks good in day time but the real struggle begins in night,” said Ruby Gond, an eighth class student. “We cannot study during night so we have to finish home work during the day. All students gather at a common place in the evenings to play games, but we always fear being bitten by snakes or other deadly reptiles”.
Sandhya, another student from the same class said: "we light dibbi (kerosene lamp) but the light is not sufficient for study. We face a real struggle as we have to do household work and study at the same time. Students move to Panna for higher studies due to non availability of electricity."
Lack of electricity poses a
different set of problems to their parents and other elderly residents. “When
the electricity department sent poles in our village, we started to imagine
life with electricity,” said Diya Bai, 62. "Every time before the
elections the politicians come and assure us that they will provide electricity
in three days but forget everything after election. I'm tired of casting my
vote and may boycott voting until the village demand is fulfilled."
Diya Bai also pointed to the lack of road connectivity. “Even an ambulance cannot come to the village in case of emergency. Villagers have to walk three kilometres to find a vehicle”.
Halki Bai, 85, who lives with her daughter in law as her son has moved to the city in search of a job, narrates a similar ordeal. "My son has purchased a solar panel which is a great help”. But her solar panel was dysfunctional when we visited and Halki Bai was sitting in lamp light.
Without any light, danger lurks constantly. The Panna reserve is home to not just the tiger but other predators like wolves, bears, wild boars, foxes and hyenas, which at times enter the village and attack villagers. “Dogs play an important role as they alert us in case of tiger movement,” said Indrapal Adivasi. “Electricity can solve this problem as tigers stay away from the light”.
Another villager Chandrabhan Adivasi talked about lack of information and communication in village. "We cannot watch television which is a big source of knowledge and information,” said Chandrabhan. “We have to take our mobile phones to Panna or a nearby village to charge its battery".
The village falls under Khajuraho Lok Sabha constituency, currently held by BJP’s Nagendra Singh, who was not available for comment. The Congress candidate Raja Pateria said Nagendra Singh has never visited the area. “It is unfortunate that a revenue village is still struggling to get electricity connection,” said Pateria, promising that the new Congress government will resolve the problem soon.
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