Zamku Devi’s mud hut atop a barren hill in Saroth village of Rajsamand district has a treasured property for the past five years. Locked in a wooden safe lie an electricity meter and a switch board, which had once brought much excitement to the old couple’s lives. Though Zamku Devi, 70, is yet to see any light, the safekeeping of the equipment has become her biggest responsibility.
About a kilometre away, Sanna Devi, 30, ties the electricity meter around her camel’s neck every time she steps out to fetch water or graze the camel. She too has no electricity but is paranoid that should she lose the equipment, she would be fined or worse, never get a power connection again.
Both the women, as per official records, have received power connections. Their meters too read four units each, but their houses are yet to get electricity.
Over 35 households in Saroth village alone have discovered that government records similarly show them as beneficiaries of the much-hyped Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana when their crumbling mud houses have not for a day seen any form of electricity. All the 35 families were given a meter and a switch board each that they prize above many other valuable possessions. Many have even got electricity bills for the unconnected meters.
Zamku Devi had to pay Rs 30 to the official who came to deliver the meter and the switch board, despite BPL connections meant to be free of cost. Pratap Singh, who on paper got a connection on February 19, 2010, under meter number 307407356, has started receiving bills even when his house remains dimly lit with kerosene.
Dinesh Singh, Assistant Engineer (Power Department), the nodal authority in the Bhim sub-division, told The Indian Express, “Out of the total 35 cases in Saroth, 20 need network connections where 11 KV line has to be drawn and transformers have to be fixed. The government does not have any scheme as of now to provide the network. Phase I of the scheme has been completed and until the next phase is announced, we cannot do anything.”
Singh also claims that there had been irregularities on the part of the contractor, Kalpataru Power Transmission Ltd, and that it had been fined Rs 60 lakh. “This area has a hilly terrain and to reach connections to so many households is quite a challenge. We had a huge task at hand and a few irregularities here and there are always possible,” he said.
The scheme had been launched across the country in March 2005 with the objective of electrifying over one lakh powerless villages and to provide free electricity connections to 2.34 crore BPL households. The government of India was to put in 90 per cent of the investment, and the rural electrification corporation the remaining 10 per cent.
Activists working in the state claim that across Rajasthan, stories such as Saroth’s are rampant. The official website of the Power Department claims 17.5 lakh BPL households have been electrified and a dismal 30 per cent of the targeted connections achieved. But the example of Rajsamand district alone is telling.
In Bhim, 8,112 BPL households out of a total of 12,146 have been given connections in the first phase, which is officially over now. Last month, at public hearings in Rajsamand, 163 complaints regarding power connections were registered, out of which 63 are from BPL households.