Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Power-less in UP: Hand-held 'pankha' & battery fans

Uttar Pradesh is the biggest state in the country in terms of population and nearly 20% of Indians live in this state, which has the most fertile land and has rivers like Ganga, Jamuna, Gomti and Ghaghra.

But it is probably the only state in India where the 'pankhas' (hand-held fans) sell in lakhs every year. Except Mayawati's hometown, the small Badalpur village, there is no other town that can boast of regular electricity supply.

When Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Chief Minister, his village Saifai was the VVIP Town for the Electricity Board officials. The State capital Lucknow and Rampur, which Mohammad Azam Khan represented, were two other places that had a comparatively better power supply than other districts.

But the day Mayawati took over the reins of the state, a newspaper report quoted a senior functionary of the Board that the VVIP status was now conferred to Badalpur, leaving Saifai in near permanent darkness. Lucknow, the State capital, gets a slightly better deal than other districts. As Mayawati's chief advisor Satish Mishra hails from Kanpur the status of the City has also gone up.

Rest it is all dark in UP. In cities like Benares (Varanasi), the boards at the reception of hotels, say it all. The visitors are asked not to expect electricity during the day and only in the night, the electricity would be supplied through generator.

In rest of the country, the situation isn't as bad as in UP. Where else you will see generators of all possible kinds, outside every shop in the markets. Even inverters have lost their utility. After all, they can store electricity only when there is electricity. But when there is no power for days, inverters can't work. So it's generators working on government-subsidised cooking gas, diesel, petrol, kerosene and the latest innovation--the battery-run fans.

The picture on the right shows a fan that works on battery. The blades of the fan are lighter and at least the family members can get some relief in the night and have peaceful sleep after braving the entire day without power. In millions of households that can't afford them, the hand-held pankhas are used by sweating men and women to beat the heat.

It is foolish to expect industrialists to come here when there is such paucity of power. In villages the situation is worse. For days there is no power and even if it comes, the voltage is so bad that nothing can work.

Neither tube wells nor motors can work. Farmers use age-old techniques for irrigation. And for electricity, a unique 'katcha bulb' that only works on low voltage, works. It explodes if the voltage goes up.

In areas represented by a strong legislator or the MP, the power supply is slightly better but it can't be more than 8-10 hrs in every 24 hrs. The difference in power production and it's demand is nearly 50% of the electricity that is generated in the state.

No wonder, the 'haath ka pankha' remains a must in most houses. For the rest of India, especially the Western and Southern regions, the sight of people drenched in sweat and using the 'pankha' could come as a shock.

Ironically, Kanpur was probably the first town in India to have street lights during the British rule. And this City that was once growing so fast that it was often termed as fifth metro of future in the decade of 70s, is now a redundant urban agglomeration of nearly 3 million where factories and tanneries have closed.

Either it's Congress, BJP, SP or BSP, each political party has exploited the electorate of Uttar Pradesh over the last 20 years when the Arun Nehru-Rajiv Gandhi combine brought Ayodhya to the centre stage and the politics of caste and religions swept all real issues aside.