This young couple has taken up on themselves to ensure villages shown ‘electrified’ on paper by government actually get electricity
By Nivedita Bhardwaj, TwoCircles.net,
Lucknow: It started after an informal personal visit to an Uttar Pradesh village, which has no electricity. One year later, a young couple has taken on themselves to ensure that villages that are ‘shown’ as electrified but in reality are ‘off-grid’ get light.
Syed Mohammad Haider Rizvi had gone to Bhat Nayya in Gonda district to attend a marriage in May first week last year. A small village with no basic amenities. Even reaching the village was a tough deal what with it taking 45 minutes to cross barely 5 kms distance. The village had no sanitation facilities, potable water and not even electricity.
Haider with his wife Sanober
“It came as a shocker for me to note that even after 67 years of Independence, this village – barely 110 kms from the state capital – did not even have the most basic of amenities. The public representatives, obviously, did not perform their duties and were more interested in adding to the penury of these poverty ridden people,” Haider, 41, a corporate lawyer, said.
Troubled over the plight of the villagers, Haider went into introspection mode, then discussed and deliberated the issue with his wife Dr Sanobar Haider, 35, who has done her PhD in history, is Assistant Professor of History at the Government PG College. Together they decided to pursue the matter. The village, it turned out, was shown as ‘electrified’ on the records/website of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. That’s when they decided to lodge a formal complaint to the Ministry of Power, government of India. Within four days of his visit to Bhat Nayya, Haider lodged a complaint on GoI’s PGPortal for public grievances (http://pgportal.gov.in/).
Ministry of Power responded in July 2014 telling the Haiders that the work was done. Then he reached the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) and got replies through Right to Information (RTI) which went on to confirm that the work was allotted but there was no talk of completion of work. That was the start of systematic crusade for these villages.
Children and other curious onlookers from Bhat Nayya village.
Haider – who earlier practiced law but since 2008 works with a multinational – and Sanobar, partners in real life are also partners in their crusade against corruption. He deals with, liaisons with and coordinates with the government officers and departments while she, with her solid research support and help in documentation, proves to be an apt and constant inspiration. With both having a full time job and a busy schedule, it is only the weekends that the couple get little time that too they spend on pursuits of such social issues.
Now, armed with latest data from the REC obtained through RTI queries, Haider went back to PGPortal again with a stronger complaint and a threat to file a PIL. This time a joint secretary level officer responded but only to pass the buck on the implementation agency. “He told me that the Power Ministry only provides funds but the work is implemented by UP’s agency Madhyanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Ltd (MVVNL),” Haider said.
Then he got a call from its executive engineer from Gonda. As expected the executive engineer haggled with him – even on phone call – whether Bhat Nayya was a ‘village’ or a ‘revenue village’, how it was a work done.
The UP government has finally woken up and electric poles were dropped at the Bhat Nayya village. It is promised that the village will be actually electrified by December 2015.
“It was informed in the last quarter of 2014 that the village would be electrified by December 2015. However to our disgust, it later on turned out that the implementation agency – IVRCL Hyderabad could not initiate the job and its contract was terminated. But nothing on who will do it now and by when,” he added.
“We were extremely dejected and were reminded of Adam Gondvi’s famous composition … … जो उलझ कर रह गई है फाइलों के जाल में… गाँव तक वो रोशनी आएगी कितने साल में.”
But those who know the couple also know that this dejection is a temporary phase for the Haiders and that they have been dealing with stubborn government officials for far too long to drop their work midway. Their earlier struggle with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to save Lucknow’s monuments is a proof enough.
Earlier this week, the couple’s struggle finally showed sign of success. The same executive engineer called Haider and told him that the electric poles were actually dropped at the village and that the work was outsourced to UP Samaj Kalyan Nirman Nigam, a UP state agency. From erecting poles, to raising cables to connecting with the grid, the official has claimed that the work will be over by December 2015.
Response letter from Rural Electrification Corporation of India
“Of course, Sanobar and I plan to keep track of it at every step. We now plan to file RTIs with MVVNL and UPSKNN. And also get feedback from our contacts in the village,” he told TwoCircles.net.
The couple also plans to expand the work to other villages. And chances are they will fully succeed, given their track record with ASI for saving the monuments.
In 2008, Haider, a passionate Lucknowite, was appointed as the Mutawalli for the waqf when his attention was drawn by the pathetic condition of the famous Amjad Ali Shah Imambara. It was encroached, some portions even by government offices, the condition of the structure was bad and the agency that was custodian of the monument, the ASI, was not doing enough. Relentless follow up through RTI queries, meetings with officials of the ASI and Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) etc generated 2000-3000 pages worth of documents, carefully sorted out by Sanobar. Their work finally paid off and ASI was prompted to first remove encroachments and then restore the monument.
Screen shot of Rajeev Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (now renamed) website showing Bhat Nayya as ‘electrified’
Imambara’s success story inspired him to take up work for other monuments of the city. “Documentation from this case came in handy and he filed a PIL with the High Court in April 2013 as a result of which the High Court appointed a ‘High Powered Committee’ in October 2013.
The couple hopes to replicate a similar story for villages that might be facing a fate similar to Bhat Nayya. “This action strengthens our belief that if the cause is genuine and bona fide, with no personal interest involved, it gets concluded favourably without fail. We feel elated and proud, of being able to contribute our bit for these villagers, who are not even remotely related to us,” is all that the couple felt.
This just goes on to show how if common people are determined enough, he/she can make the government machinery work. Haider couple is an example of hope for people to not give up the right cause.