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‘So Many Villages Have Been Electrified’. Here Is The Problem With Saying That

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Orissa_school
Children at a village school. Source: Wikipedia.

A recent NDTV report from Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh highlights an interesting trend. In the un-electrified areas of the district, most of the electricity needs were being earlier fulfilled by diesel generators as the power cuts were all too frequent. But this has changed since Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC) set up a solar power plant in Jangaon village three years ago. This has reduced the cost spent by businessmen on electricity drastically, and enabled students to use their computer lab, says the report.

With packages ranging from Rs. 100 a month for powering a 7 watt LED light from 5 pm to 11 pm and a mobile charging socket to 24X7 supplies, the company tries to address the needs of all strata of society.

Electrified Villages Do Not Equal Electricity In Households

In 2015, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister had pledged to electrify the then remaining 18, 452 un-electrified villages by 1st May 2018. The scheme that is to lead this charge is the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojna (DDUGJY), in which the earlier Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) has been subsumed. A GARV portal, which tracks the progress of the scheme, claims that we have as of now (at the time of writing this article) already achieved 31% our target.

However, as an opinion column pointed out last year in The Hindu, the percentage of electrified villages may not be an accurate indicator of electricity reaching the masses, the reason being the manner in which an electrified village is defined.

The definition, as it is understood by the Ministry of Power, states that “A village will be deemed to be electrified if electricity is used in the inhabited locality within the revenue boundary of the village for any purpose whatsoever.” This implies that counting electrified villages excludes the people who live in a village that is electrified but are unable to use electricity.

That is like saying that everybody must be well fed in a town just because the town has a shop that sells food, irrespective of whether the food is affordable for everybody or even supplied to the shop.

According to some estimates, close to 97% of the population without electricity lives in villages that already have an electric grid or in un-electrified areas of otherwise electrified villages.

These households then are not under the radar of the DDUGJY. In the winter session of the parliament, for instance, the Minister of Power informed the parliament that we are terribly lagging behind in our targets in electrifying BPL (Below Poverty Line) households. So, although according to the GARV portal only 7% of villages are behind target in the DDUGJY electrification programme, as on 30-11-2015 we had achieved only 57% of our target (that may be either in an electrified or an un-electrified village).

Just Providing Electricity Isn’t Enough

It is due to the lack of electricity in individual households or areas of a village – a great chunk of which are apparently in electrified villages – that the demand for small renewable energy providers like OMC seems to have arisen. Even then, for any massive electrification programme, the country needs to create affordable electricity and a lot of it if the government wants to achieve its targets.

There have been steps in this direction but one wonders whether they can also guarantee electricity that does not pollute the environment, reduces forest cover, or displaces people. The Minister of Coal told the parliament in December, for instance, that his ministry sought to overcome the deficit in thermal coal supply by “by increasing coal production to the extent possible by facilitating Environment & Forest clearances expeditiously, pursuing with State Government for assistance in land acquisition.”

Not only does that seem like a dangerous approach, it would also be in contrast to the government’s own Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme (DELP) – the purpose of which is to reduce carbon emissions and make better use of the electricity that is produced.

The DELP envisages replacing 77 crore incandescent bulbs with high-quality LED bulbs. Although it has reached only a few states, this programme claims to save close to 2 crore kW/h energy and reduce CO2 emissions by over 15,000 tonnes every day.

As things stand today, given our energy crisis, lighting itself demands 18% of the electricity consumed in India, as per a report. It further adds that this percentage is much higher than the global average of 13%. And that if the government plays its cards right and goes in for large-scale adoption of LEDs, this will not only bring India closer to the global average but could also prove to be more friendly to the environment as it would reduce the need to build more energy plants. A positive note here is that the cost of procuring LED bulbs in India has, according to Union Minister Piyush Goyal, seen a dramatic 76% decline, from Rs.310 in February 2014 to Rs.76.

Right Foot Forward

It is commendable that the Prime Minister is working on an ambitious plan. But round the clock electricity for every household still seems a distant dream. There is little doubt, however, that the Prime Minister indeed wishes so, for he has never shied away – in speech, at least – from creating better infrastructure. However, he must also ensure that the infrastructure reaches everybody, is cost effective and does not harm the country’s environment.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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