M A I N   N E W S

They use stones to light fire, have never seen a power pole
‘Stone-age’ women from Uttarakhand want hydel projects back on Ganga
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, June 16
Somewhere in remote corners of mountainous Uttarakhand, rural women still use stones to light a fire in their dark homes. They have never seen electric poles and have little hope of seeing any in future either. Whatever hope there was of power connectivity has been taken away by religious groups protesting construction of hydel power projects on Ganga, along whose banks close to 1,220 Uttarakhand villages are still steeped in stone-age darkness.

A proof of the misery was presented by Surtama Rawat (in pic), a 36-year-old inhabitant of Pujali village from Uttarkashi district of the state. As she exhibited her dexterity at using a stone to flame up a shred from a tree bark, everyone watched in stupor.

“We live this misery everyday. Our homes are dark. We have no money to buy candles or kerosene for our lanterns. We live in the stone ages, still lighting up our huts with stones and tree barks. We can’t use the match sticks as they are too moist to light up pieces from tree barks,” Surtama said, appealing to the Centre and the state to resume work on the hydroelectric power projects along the Ganga.

Work was stalled on April 17 on the state-owned projects — 48 MW Palamaneri and 381 MW Baironghati — and the Centre-owned 600 MW Lohari Nagpala between Gomukh and Haridwar. The move followed anti-dam protests by saints and an IIT professor-turned-activist GD Agarwal, who said the dams threatened flow of the Ganga.

But over 8,000 inhabitants of the villages that were to be lit up by these projects ask, “How can the governments succumb to the pressure of religious groups when 50 per cent work is complete and crores pumped into the projects?” There are no easy answers. But there’s weight in the reasons which poor village women from remote Uttarakhand mount in the defence of dams. Lilavati from Ludyag village in Mori block of Uttarkashi says she has to travel several kilometres daily across the border to Himachal to recharge her cell phone. It is a normal practice here.

“We cross over to Dodragwar in Shimla to recharge our mobiles. Shopkeepers charge us Rs 200 for a full recharge,” says Surtama.

These families don’t make enough money under the MNREGA to buy candles. “Our wages have just been revised from Rs 50 to Rs 100 a day under the MNREGA. One family has close to 16 persons to feed. We have to survive on one litre of kerosene oil, which we get after two to three months,” says another Uttarkashi woman Yoma Devi, here under the banner of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, which is helping them seek justice.

Avdhesh Kaushal of the kendra says religious groups are unjust in their arguments that the dams would interrupt the river’s flow. There is ample evidence across India of how hydroelectric power has transformed lives of the poor, especially in Punjab. “We appeal to the Prime Minister to restore work on the dams,” he said.

As for Uttarakhand, it spends Rs 750 crore a year to buy 150 MW of additional electricity to meet its demand. Such is the crisis that the per capita energy consumption here is a low of 654.84 kWh as against 1766.94 kWh in Delhi. So much for the Prime Minister’s promise of complete electrification of India’s villages by 2012!





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