Bihar 1I am travelling with a team of surveyors who proudly call themselves soochna prahari. They are the local Right to Information (RTI) activists who have been filing RTIs and bringing out many cases of corruption and malpractices in their areas. They are excited to be a part of this survey and believe that this whole jansunvai (public hearing) process will help take their work to the next level through community involvement.

We were on our way to Gopalpur (Harlakhi Block) in Madhubani. The roads which made Bihar famous were now riddled with some potholes but the drive was easy. The beautiful landscape of palm trees, mango orchards, golden wheat fields and small ponds with children and buffaloes splashing around made me think that everything was fine with the world here. That was until I met the Block Development Officer (BDO).

Sitting at his home, with his daughter at his feet, he looked disinterested when we approached him and said that we were going to do a survey on Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY). He nodded and asked us to get permission from his office a few yards away. After haggling with his assistants we got an undecipherable signature without a seal and were forced to make do with it.

The second reality check occurred when we reached Gopalpur. It is a small village on the Indo-Nepal border, which I am sure none of the administrators have bothered to visit. All the below poverty line (BPL) families here had paid for their connections and the new shining transformer has already malfunctioned once. People only get electricity for half an hour and that also only 10 days in a month. Worse, they have no clue as to who has laid the lines, where to complain and therefore maintain the newly-laid lines and transformer themselves. The families above poverty line (APL) have been told that the scheme is not for them and so they have no connection at all!

As I was returning from Madhubani in the evening, I could hear people cheering the Indian cricket team against arch rivals Pakistan. The diesel generators hummed in the background as people watched the match excitedly. In some villages, loudspeakers were installed on temples and mosques and we could hear bits of the match commentary. My driver told me that his tola (hamlet) had pooled in money for the diesel generator and a large screen with a projector was arranged for everyone to watch the cricket match. I asked him if his village had been electrified under RGGVY. He said that he paid Rs 200 for the meter and that there is a board in his village which claims that the village has been electrified under RGGVY.

Next day we reached Parwalpur village (Madhepur block) where another team of soochna praharis was conducting the survey. Here the road is yet to be built and I managed to reach the far flung village after several queries and finally a lift on a motorcycle. I could see newly laid poles and lines, and hoped that the story would be different here. But the anger in my team's eyes was evident when I reached the village.

They told me about a handicapped BPL family who were bypassed by the RGGVY contractor as they could not pay the money demanded by him. The village was connected to the grid a year back, people have paid up to Rs 700, depending on the distance from the transformer, and yet they have not seen even a minute of electricity!

I was then shown the transformer which was not connected to the grid. People from the village wanted to know if I could do something to get it connected. With a lot of difficulty I explained to them why we are conducting this survey and that it was an opportunity for them to express their problems. Finally I managed to convince them to come for the jansunvai on 5th May.

I also met the APL families who are not interested in the connection at all. They were reluctant to get a connection as they would have to shell out a lot of money and the village will not have electricity anyways. So I came back, depressed with the state of affairs. The villager I had asked for directions earlier waved at me and asked, “raste milbe?” (Did you find the way?). I nodded and said yes, and thought the answer was still ‘not yet’ for rural electrification.


Image: © Harikrishna Katragadda / Greenpeace