Electricity is the one commodity which I, like most other urban millenials, have always taken for granted. I remember a 15 hour power cut in my college was the cause of major student protests and led the college authorities to ensure 24x7 generator backup from then on. So when I got to know 1.1 billion people across the world live without access to electricity, and till recently, 40 crore of them lived in India, it was quite a sobering moment for me. But at the same time, it was heartening to know how the Government had come forward in the last couple of years to make the dream of universal electrification a reality. 100% of villages have been electrified under the DDUGJY, 94.3% of households in these villages have been electrified under the Saubhagya scheme.
It was in this context that I, along with three of my friends, decided to go to some villages and figure out the ground realities ourselves. This led us to Rampur district of UP. We visited four villages over the course of four days, and it was definitely an experience of a lifetime.
In every village we visited, we could spot houses with Saubhagya logo-embossed meters all around.
We decided to speak to the beneficiaries directly and ask them how their lives had been impacted and came up with the most varied of responses.
Most of these families had gotten electricity connections for the first time in their lives, and even the most mundane of activities like cooking rotis had become easier to them because of lighting. Some mentioned how getting to sleep under a fan at the end of a long day at the field was something they could only dream of before, but it had now become a reality.
Some of these people used rechargeable batteries before and they had to travel across villages wasting upto half a day for the same; some used generator supply. But now, both these groups have realized how electricity provided by the discoms was much more reliable and affordable, and made the switch.
The biggest change seemed to have come in the lives of women and children. Women who previously had to finish off all their chores till sunset have now rescheduled their days to do some of those in the evenings. We even met a woman who had started studying off the internet in the evenings, and she mentioned how the ability to charge her phone in the house had made things easier for her. Some women mentioned to us enthusiastically about the designer sarees worn by women in TV soaps, which they can now watch on newly-purchased TV sets. Thus, in addition to easing their lives, electricity had helped them to know about things outside their immediate neighbourhood.
Children were now studying longer, which was resulting in better grades. With better education, we can hope they will grow up to become more informed and aware citizens, and it will eventually result in better income and health outcomes.
Some of the villagers had been running enterprises like beedi making, kite making etc. from their homes. Now with electricity and increase in the number of work hours, they have seen an increase in income.
For every beneficiary we spoke to, the sense of empowerment was perceptible, and some spoke about an enhancement in their self-respect as well as social status, as a result of electrification. All these positive changes in their lives have also had the indirect benefit of changing their perception of politicians and government officials.
At the end of these four days, we thus came back with a much deeper understanding of rural India, and how electricity had been a game changer for people living there. The smiles that I saw on these villagers faces every day, when they switched on their bulbs at sundown, is something that I will always remember and this will guide me as I move forward in this new career path I have chosen.
Ananya works as a LAMP (Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament) fellow to Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Rajya Sabha MP and Hon. Director, PPRC.
© Copyright 2015 PPRC