When the residents of Mankulam, a village near the hill resort of Munnar in Idukki district in central Kerala, launched their own power project in 2004, they — were hailed for their unique achievement.
Around 300 families in the village got used to cheap and uninterrupted power supply from the Rs 1.20-crore (close to Rs 10 million) Mankulam hydel project which provided electricity to the village at 25 to 30 paise a unit.
But after a dream-run of more than three years, the project managed by the panchayat was taken over by the state electricity board. Reason: The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd refused to start its telephone exchange in the area without power supply from the state board’s grid.
Two months later, the villagers got one rude shock after another. They found their monthly bills had soared and the two 110-kv generators were not being maintained at all. Gradually, the power plant stopped functioning.
“My power bill was Rs 50 a month two years ago. But now, I pay at least five to six times more and still suffer power cuts,” Praveen Jose, a small businessman and a local Youth Congress activist, said.
In 2000, the village panchayat started collecting funds for the project, as the villagers decided to use the small cluster of waterfalls around the area for generating power.
Initially, there was no model to go by and the state board was not of much help either.
Still, the project came up in 2004 with the help of the state-run Energy Management Centre and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
UNIDO said, “The symbiotic association between a local self-government and a world body (UNIDO) has given a great model to the developing world.”
But Mathew Joseph, a resident of the village, said, “As if to punish us, the state electricity board laid lines through the forests and made it more difficult to maintain. Once the power trips, it takes days together to restore it.”
However, a senior state electricity board official, who refused to be named, said, “The equipment and motors were imported from China. We need to have spares and a synchronisation panel. Once we get them, it will again be functional.”