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Maharashtra tribals do a Swades

The project, which provided electricity to 12 remote tribal hamlets, was inspiration for the film Swades, reports Zeeshan Shaikh.
By Zeeshan Shaikh | None, Bilgaon (nandurbar)
PUBLISHED ON FEB 14, 2007 02:13 PM IST

Nearly 1200 tribals in Bilgaon located 520 Kms north of Mumbai have now decided to join hands and revive a micro hydel project, which provided electricity to 12 tribal hamlets, through community labour.

The project, which was the inspiration for the Swades, had been washed away in August 2006 due to the backwater effect of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and has been lying shut for the past seven months due to government apathy.

"These villages had no access to electricity since Independence until this project was started. We have asked the government for help to resume this project help but we still haven't got any response.

In view of this we have now decided to collect Rs 100 from each villager to restart the project," member of the local Panchayat Samiti Ajit Pawra told HT.

The village which lies on the banks of the Udai and Titodi river did not have access to electricity since independence.

The last electrical outpost is 10 kms away.

Activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan along with the villagers then decided to start a microhydel project tapping power from a waterfall located on the river.

The NBA and local tribals funded the project built at in a nine-month period at a cost of Rs 10 lakhs.

The micro hydel model designed by People's School of Energy generated 15 kilo watts of electricity supplying power to 12 tribal hamlets located within six kms of the village.

"This project which started operation in January 2003 was completely run by the tribals. We used to charge Rs 10 for each tube light and Rs 30 for a television set every month.

This money was used to carry out the maintenance of the project," headmaster of the local primary school Vijay Patle said.

The project however suffered severe damage during the recent flooding of the Udai River in August 2006 and has been lying closed since plunging 250 houses in darkness.

"The local Tehsildar carried out a Panchnama in August to assess the damage, however till date no help has been received from the government. All the 12 Padas (hamlets) have been in darkness since August," Pawra says.

Villagers feel that they have been caught in the crossfire between the
administrators and the NBA.

"It seems that the government is not ready to help the project because it is associated with the NBA," Pawra says.

Meanwhile the villagers have now decided to join hands and fund the restoration of the project themselves.

"We have now decided to collect money from the families living in these 12 hamlets.

That money will be used to procure and repair the dynamo and bearings. The construction work will be done through community labour," says Pawra.

Meanwhile Nandurbar's collector Jayant Gaikwad promised to help sort out the electricity problems of the village.

"I am not aware about the washing away of the project. There is a need to study the feasibility of such stand alone projects in the long run.

However it is our responsibility to provide electricity to these villages and I will direct the desired officials to look into the matter," Gaikwad told
HT.

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