When Power Empowers: Struggle for Electricity in India’s Capital
Battery-packs in a pedal-electric rickshaws have become a common sight in north Delhi. 
Battery-packs in a pedal-electric rickshaws have become a common sight in north Delhi. (Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

When Power Empowers: Struggle for Electricity in India’s Capital

In the three weeks I spent meeting people in the Valmiki basti of Chandrawal, and a few other cluster areas nearby, it’s apparent how lives of the people living here has changed completely.

Zaheer Hassan, who has been running a cycle repair shop since late 1980s, talks about how Chandrawal, which used to be only jhuggies (shanties), now has pucca houses with electricity meters installed in each of them.

Night view of Chandrawal Basti overlooking the Parsvnath High Towers, North Delhi. 
Night view of Chandrawal Basti overlooking the Parsvnath High Towers, North Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Kaanta - Electricity Theft

Zaheer says that when Chandrawal Basti was only shanties, electric companies wouldn’t install meters in the houses which led to people stealing electricity using kaantas.

You just need an aluminum wire, make an S-loop with it, attach the wire connection through which electricity would be supplied in the house, and hang this loop on the electric pole.
Zaheer Hassan 

Since kaantas were the main source of free electricity, the raids were fairly common.

Every time the officials came to this neighbourhood, they would cut all the wires and take it with them. However, once they left, we would put the wires up again.
Zaheer Hassan

The Yellow Card Sham

Back in 1998, a man claiming to be a ‘contractor’ issued yellow cards to the residents of Chandrawal. The residents paid a nominal amount every month for a year which ‘authorised’ the kaantas. During this time, the raids did not happen at all. However, a year later, the ‘contractor’ was nowhere to be found.

Rohtash says, “to tackle electricity theft, yellow cards were issued, and Rs 60 used to be collected every month; but, it didn’t work out for too long.”
Rohtash
Rohtash Kumar a resident of Chandrawal Basti shows his yellow card.
Rohtash Kumar a resident of Chandrawal Basti shows his yellow card.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Roshan Lal and Pushpa, his wife, with their yellow card. 
Roshan Lal and Pushpa, his wife, with their yellow card. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Kamla Devi with her yellow card. 
Kamla Devi with her yellow card. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Just across this basti is Majnu Ka Tila, where 70-years-old Veena Batra works at a local bakery, selling biscuits, chips and tea.

Veena gets nostalgic as she narrates how two decades ago, when officials came for a raid in the area to remove all the kaantas, she ganged up with some neighbors, took a washing bat, and beat the officials out of the basti.
Veena Batra in her one-room house at Majnu ka Tila. Currently, Veena doesn’t have a metre, but has sublet a connection from her son; her own metre was removed due to non-payment of dues. 
Veena Batra in her one-room house at Majnu ka Tila. Currently, Veena doesn’t have a metre, but has sublet a connection from her son; her own metre was removed due to non-payment of dues. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Agents of Change

After Tata Power-DDL took over Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), they mobilised women in the area as “Abha” workers. These women are intermediaries who work to curb electricity theft, help the residents file complaints, and resolve other electricity connection related issues.

Abha worker Mehender Kaur tries to calm Hardeep Kaur who wants her meter  to be shifted on the wall outside her home. The place where the metre is currently placed has water seepage.
Abha worker Mehender Kaur tries to calm Hardeep Kaur who wants her meter to be shifted on the wall outside her home. The place where the metre is currently placed has water seepage.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Mehender Kaur, who works as an Abha worker in Sanjay Basti, has 250 houses under her. She ensures she visits at least 10 houses each day to check if they have any unresolved issues. The day I happened to be in Sanjay Basti, Mehender was seen distributing electricity notices stating metre-removal to houses with non-payment over months.

Mehender Kaur giving a notice circular to a house in Sanjay Basti over non-payment of dues. 
Mehender Kaur giving a notice circular to a house in Sanjay Basti over non-payment of dues. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Interviewing a few Abha workers, I came across a young, spirited girl named Rajni, who is just 22-years-old and earns close to about Rs 12,000 per month as an Abha worker.

People used to steal electricity, but after we were mobilised there has been drastic change in electricity theft.
Rajni

Another independent woman, Jyoti, saw someone conducting surveys in her area and thought it to be a good way to earn money. Three years ago, she was promoted to become an Abha coordinator and has now moved out of the cluster to a rented house in Shakurpur, JJ Colony.

Jyoti has transformed her life and moved into a rented house from the slum cluster, since she started working as an Abha Worker with Tata Power-DDL, New Delhi. 
Jyoti has transformed her life and moved into a rented house from the slum cluster, since she started working as an Abha Worker with Tata Power-DDL, New Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Illuminating New Paths

Chandrawal is now a transformed place – small-pucca houses replace the shanties and electricity has empowered people in a big way. Not only have small shops popped up, but battery-powered rickshaws have also replaced the pedal-rickshaws, which were once the main form of transportation for locals.

Gopal and her wife Laxmi run a small tailor shop in Majnu Ka Tila, North Delhi. 
Gopal and her wife Laxmi run a small tailor shop in Majnu Ka Tila, North Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Nand Kishor and his son Vishal at their small electric repair shop in Chandrawal, north Delhi.
Nand Kishor and his son Vishal at their small electric repair shop in Chandrawal, north Delhi.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Shristi works from her home to place springs into switches. For every 144 springs fitted into the switches, she earns Rs 3. On an average, she earns about Rs 50 per day. 
Shristi works from her home to place springs into switches. For every 144 springs fitted into the switches, she earns Rs 3. On an average, she earns about Rs 50 per day. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Nathu Devi putting together plastic switch covers inside her home in Kabir Nagar, north Delhi.
Nathu Devi putting together plastic switch covers inside her home in Kabir Nagar, north Delhi.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Inside the narrow lanes of Chandrawal Basti, North Delhi.
Inside the narrow lanes of Chandrawal Basti, North Delhi.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Vijay Kumar, who earned his daily-income as a pedal-rickshaw puller for the last 17 years, has now taken to a battery powered one.

"The work is easier, but the income is the same, pedal rickshaw would cost Rs 40 per day to rent out, and this one costs Rs 350 per day for a fully-charged one,” he said.

Vijay Kumar frequently drives between Vidhan Sabha metro station and Majnu Ka Tila- Chandrawal Bast in north Delhi. 
Vijay Kumar frequently drives between Vidhan Sabha metro station and Majnu Ka Tila- Chandrawal Bast in north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Battery-packs in a pedal-electric rickshaws have become a common sight in north Delhi. 
Battery-packs in a pedal-electric rickshaws have become a common sight in north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Battery Indicator of an electric rickshaw. 
Battery Indicator of an electric rickshaw. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Battery-pack of electric rickshaws can be seen all over Chandrawal basti area in North Delhi. 
Battery-pack of electric rickshaws can be seen all over Chandrawal basti area in North Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
A mechanic checks the battery-pack of an electric rickshaw. 
A mechanic checks the battery-pack of an electric rickshaw. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Speak to anyone in the various clusters of north Delhi, and you feel that mostly people are happy with the electricity situation. Most families have almost all electrical appliances, including televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, water-coolers and even air-conditioners in some well-off houses.

An air-conditioner at a house in Kabir Nagar, north Delhi. 
An air-conditioner at a house in Kabir Nagar, north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
A metre  seen in Sanjay Basti, North Delhi. Tata Power-DDL, that provides electricity in the area, have a yellow plate marking as none of the houses in the basti have house numbers.
A metre  seen in Sanjay Basti, North Delhi. Tata Power-DDL, that provides electricity in the area, have a yellow plate marking as none of the houses in the basti have house numbers.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
A family watching television inside their one room house in Chandrawal basti, north Delhi.
A family watching television inside their one room house in Chandrawal basti, north Delhi.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
A house decorated with lights during Diwali in Chandrawal basti.
A house decorated with lights during Diwali in Chandrawal basti.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Electricity supply has come as a great relief to students, who don’t have to worry about missing out on homework after dark.
Electricity supply has come as a great relief to students, who don’t have to worry about missing out on homework after dark.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
 A kid studies under a tube light inside his house in Chandrawal basti, north Delhi.
A kid studies under a tube light inside his house in Chandrawal basti, north Delhi.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
Families in  Chandrawal basti can now enjoy quality time indoors.
Families in Chandrawal basti can now enjoy quality time indoors.
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Women Feel Safer

A woman with her kid in the narrow lanes of Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
A woman with her kid in the narrow lanes of Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Women can be seen sitting out and roaming in the streets late at night, without any worry.

Sharda, who has been a resident of Majnu ka Tila for over three decades, sits in the courtyard of her house. She feels safe after electricity metres have been installed, and can comfortably be seen out till late at night, north Delhi. 
Sharda, who has been a resident of Majnu ka Tila for over three decades, sits in the courtyard of her house. She feels safe after electricity metres have been installed, and can comfortably be seen out till late at night, north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

Triveni, a woman in her late 50s, sits in the lanes of Kabir Nagar basti and says, “Earlier there was no electricity so we couldn’t roam even in our lanes, but now, things are better and there is no fear.”

Triveni with one of her neighbors in Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
Triveni with one of her neighbors in Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)
A woman carrying a bucket of water  from a nearby tap in Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
A woman carrying a bucket of water from a nearby tap in Kabir Nagar basti, north Delhi. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

But Hiccups Remain

But while all is well for most inhabitants in the cluster, Reshma, who recently moved to Sanjay Basti, told me how the previous owner had unpaid electricity dues which have now mounted to Rs 1.5 lakh and the power company won’t install a metre until that has been cleared. She has been asked to pay the amount in installments of Rs 10,000.

Reshma has no electric metre installed in her house in Sanjay Basti due to pending dues not paid by the previous owner. 
Reshma has no electric metre installed in her house in Sanjay Basti due to pending dues not paid by the previous owner. 
(Photo: Natisha Mallick/The Quint)

“I can either pay the installments or feed my kids,’’ she said. Reshma has sublet electricity from a neighbor and pays about Rs 800-1,000 per month.

When cases like that of Reshma are few in number in different bastis, Rohtash, the local pradhan of Chandrawal, says, “Woh Zamana bahut mushkil tha... ab toh sab kuch acha hai.”

Woh Zamana bahut mushkil tha... ab toh sab kuch acha hai.
Rohtash, Pradhan, Chandrawal

The residents of Chadrawal stand testimony to the time when electricity theft was common. All these people – different shop-owners, rickshaw walas or the Abha workers – also feel that their life has been completely transformed –– that ‘power’ has really empowered them.

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