When Women take Power in Their Hands

Women of a Rajasthan village spark a revolution against power theft

A women-driven initiative to curb power theft in Rajasthan”™s Ajmer district has helped light up 597 houses and has emerged as a model to be emulated across the state for bringing down transmission and distribution (T&D) losses.
It all started with a conversation between two women”” 60-year old Chhoti Hudda , resident of Bithur village in Nasirabad and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. On tour of the village during Nyay Aapke Dwar (justice at your door) campaign, Raje asked Hudda to share her grievances. Hudda said that her village has no power. Raje asked her officials why this was so. She was told that according to a scheme, electricity supply was cut to those villages where T&D losses were more than 40%. The CM then asked the people of Bithur, if they could help in bringing down the losses. In Rajasthan, as in many parts of India, power theft accounts for a huge chunk of the T&D losses”” a problem that needs both sides, the state officials and the people, to play their parts in informing and punishing power theft. On that hot day in May, the CM”™s words struck a chord with the women of power-deprived Bithur. They decided to do whatever they could to stop theft of electricity. On May 24, the women gathered the villagers and everyone swore an oath to end power theft “” not only an individual oath of not stealing, but a collective responsibility of not letting anybody steal.

And the women succeeded “” within a month, the T&D loss was down to 17%, a huge slump from the above 40% levels that had disqualified their village area from power supply. The loss has not gone above 20% ever since. But it was not an easy ride. The women met with hostility from men who told them to “mind their business”.

Women then turned informants and got in contact with the vigilance teams that came to their villages on raids. On receiving complaints from the women, vigilance teams imposed penalties of more than Rs. 2.5 lakh on defaulters. Action by the authorities began to discourage power theft, and soon the small circle of women grew bigger- more people left the side of power thieves and began helping in reporting theft. Action against power theft became the mission of the village with the gram panchayat organising meetings in areas where theft was most rampant. It was a confluence of power officials and the village people at these meetings, where it was made clear to everybody that power theft was the reason for electricity not reaching their homes, and how each one could contribute in remedying the problem. The campaign worked. Power executive engineer BS Soni has said that losses have gone down from Rs. 3.5 lakh every month to Rs. 1.5 lakh.

The village has given its name to a model that the State government plans to implement in all rural areas that report T&D losses above 40%. Replicating the “˜Bithur Model”™ statewide is part of the State”™s resolve to make profitable its debt-ridden power distribution companies (DISCOMs). Under the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY), a scheme to turnaround loss-making DISCOMS, the State has taken over Rs 60,000 crore of the Rs.90,000 crore accumulated loss of Rajasthan”™s DISCOMs. Rajasthan”™s approach is in line with the philosophy of the UDAY scheme, which mandates focus on efficiency and cutting down T&D losses, instead of relying on increasing power tariffs. As the state organises collectives against power theft in various districts, the women of Bithur can be proud of showing people how they can take their power truly in their own hands. These women remind us that the state is not something separate from us “” we are the state. In a democracy, we the people are sovereign, and so it is only when we recognise our power, when we realise our role as guardians of our community- that we form a better society, a better country.

Arushi Bahuguna

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