Siddu was very depressed when I met him. The results of his pre-university exams were just out and he had not done as well as he had expected. He was the first amongst his family who had ventured out to college and he had a point to prove to not only himself but also to his family and his whole village. Most of the people in his village had not studied beyond the 10th standard and he was one of the first to have gone to college in the town of H.D.Kote. The hardships he had experienced were numerous. From starting out early in the morning in order to not miss the only bus that went to the town, to staying hungry the whole day, to trying to make sense of some of the English words that he was hearing for the first time, to being ridiculed by his family and friends for not focusing on agriculture and his family income – he had to endure it all. He had dreamt of going into a professional course, and he knew that with the marks he had secured, this would still be only a dream. He used to meet and interact with me during the two years of his pre-university education and I too had hoped that his marks will match upto his ambitions. He had come to meet me to seek advice on what to do and I was a bit harsh on him and suggested that he may have not worked hard enough and must have deserved the marks that he got. It was then that he broke down and told me his story. Though it may sound unique to his situation, I feel that it would be the story of many a rural boy in India.
He was the eldest of 7 children and his father had 4 acres of land. They had borrowed substantial money for drilling a borewell on the land and it was indeed happy news for them to know that the borewell yielded adequate water and they were now hoping that at least 2 acres could be irrigated. Siddu was convinced that this would change their family fortunes and they would now be able to climb the social and economic ladder. He was now certain that his father would be able to afford to pay the fees if he went to study at Mysore. All his dreams revolved around the two acres of land that could now be irrigated. All that remained was the family’s ability to get a submersible pump installed for the borewell and get it energized as early as possible. This was easier said than done. The local electricity office was indeed a challenge for someone like Siddu and his father to negotiate. Being the only one who could read and comprehend the complex procedures, his family depended on him to do this. There were many days when Siddu spent meeting with the local officials, the electrical contractor and everyone who mattered in the fond hope that this could be done soon. Little did he realize that things moved slowly for the poor who were ignorant of the ways in which the system operated. After more than 8 months of waiting and spending a great deal of money, the borewell was finally energized. With assured irrigation, Siddu hoped that his family could now grow commercial crops that would eventually pave the way for his higher education.
But his hopes were short-lived. Technically, the borewell was energized but the unfortunate truth was the power cuts that plagued his village. There was hardly 4 hours of 220 volts, 3-phase power given and that meant the borewell could only work then. Though power was meant to be available on set times, it was never so. Most of the time the power was irregular, inconsistent and mostly in single phase and of low voltage. He spent most of the nights waiting for the power to come on in order to switch on the pump set and had to walk to his fields from his home more than 2 km away each time the power went off and came on again. Siddu had heard that a few farmers in the neighbouring villages had installed devices that would switch on the pump automatically or convert the single phase into 3-phase power on which the pumps worked. Siddu’s father could not afford them and he had to wake up at least 2-3 times each day for ensuring that the pump could be switched on. This meant that he could not focus on his studies and his poor sleeping habits also left him groggy in class each day. As though this was not enough, he had to leave home early which meant that he neither could eat any breakfast nor carry any lunch with him. This left him with the only option of having his first meal of the day only after he returned home in the evening. It was indeed a wonder that he had managed to pass his exams at all.
For many living in the cities, not having electricity could only mean that the fan would not work for a few minutes or the mixie not working in the kitchen or missing a favourite TV serial. We hardly stop to think the complex relationship of ‘Energy’ and its impact on ‘Development’. What makes it more dramatic is the fact that people like Siddu come from taluks that have dams producing hydroelectric power. H.D.Kote has power plants built across the Nugu and Kabini rivers, and between them they produce 27.5 MW of power seasonally. Most of this power goes to the State grid and that means the local people neither control or use any of it. Bangalore City with a population of about one-sixth of the state consumes more than 50% of power available to Karnataka. It is only natural that Bangalore continues to be the economic engine of the state while the rest of the state languishes. Villages of Karnataka and the people residing in them cannot think of economic growth without energy being made available to them. Environmental sustainability and safety issues also mandate that we relook at our Thermal and Nuclear power plants while at the same time not lose out on the much-needed development. Though it sounds paradoxical, we now need to think out of the box and explore other workable options that keeps this balance in mind. States like Gujarat have separated out the distribution lines to ensure stable and consistent power to rural areas for domestic use, while assuring clean and reliable power at fixed times of the day for their irrigation needs. Options of encouraging micro power plants with micro grids to distribute power locally, or having central solar charging stations where families could get their solar lanterns charged each day, or giving people greater control over local natural resources need to be explored. When this is done, students like Siddu can at least hope for a ‘brighter’ future.
Our policy planners, environmental activists and politicians need to understand that the Economy, Environment and Energy are all inter-related. All of them need to join hands and work together in developing a balanced solution and ensure that progress, growth and development is not only equitable but also environmentally sustainable. We need to internalize that unless our villages grow, thrive and develop, we will never be able to solve the problems of rapid urbanization too. Only when we are able to give our villagers a better quality of life and ensure economic growth can overall development of the state happen. Only when we take an ecosystem approach to our thinking, we can bring about meaningful and sustainable development for all.