People in Bara Banghal, a nearly inaccessible pocket in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, are still living in the dark age, struggling to get electricity for long.
In absence of electricity, the tribal-like folks in this panchayat use ‘jugnus’ (wooden sticks put on fire) or kerosene lamps for work at night.
The only 40 Kilo Watt (KW) hydropower project commissioned by Sai Foundation in 2004 for two villages, Ghraan and Phaal, in the panchayat, is non-functional for seven-eight years for want of maintenance by the state agencies.
All representations by poor people from the area to government to repair the project have fallen on deaf ears all these years.
Bara Banghal is isolated and one has to take a 70-km arduous trek to reach the area. It takes two to three days to reach Bara Banghal on foot, either from Bir in Kangra or from Holi-Naya Gran in Chamba.
Now that new government has taken over in the state, the people, mostly shepherds, have again raked up the issue with the power department officials.
“People face great difficulty in the absence of power. The dim solar lights used by some households don’t serve their purpose at night. The battery-operated phones can only function for two-three hours in a day. Even the employees posted here are unwilling to serve in such hardships,” said a letter by gram panchyat to Principal Secretary, MPP and Power, with a request to hand over the power project to state electricity board for its smooth operations.
The project was set up with much delay as the entire machinery had to be airlifted to the place.
“There were hurdles in convincing the government to help in airlifting the machinery then, as Bara Banghal has a population of only 700. The project never ran smoothly even after that,” they said.
“We did not have information that the hydro project in Bara Banghal is shut for so long. We will ensure that it is made functional,” said Ajay Sharma, special secretary, MPP and Power. Sharma shared with The Statesman that the department has a proposal to install 40-50 KW solar power plant in Bara Banghal, for which the district administration has been asked to provide land. “This will solve the problem,” he said.
The locals, however, argue that most of their problems originate from inaccessibility. “We are poor, we are struggling for basic needs like power, health and education because of lack of connectivity. I don’t know how much solar plant would help in that case,” said Pawna Kumari, a local leader.
Not surprisingly, no government has so far thought about connecting Bara Banghal with road. Even the paths or night shelters to make it a safe and secure trek for locals, who cross 4,700 metres high Thamsar Pass (from Bir) across the mountains, don’t exist.