For years, people in rural Odisha did not have proper livelihood due to irregular electricity supply. His daily activities were also at the mercy of the limited power available. As state-owned electricity distribution companies (DISCOMS) were poorly managed, villagers often received bills with errors and an incompetent customer services their complaints. This led to poor service in most villages of the state.
However, the electricity system has become more stable for the last six months, owing to more than 120 women, known as Bijli Didi in the village, who are at the forefront of bringing electricity to the end.
Bijli Didi played a key role in implementing Smart Power India approach to bring electricity to the ineligible rural areas of India. Vidyut Didi’s team has not only reduced losses, but has also earned incremental revenue of Rs 7 crore.
Thirty-eight-year-old Lopamudra Mohanty is one such entrepreneur woman from Pokhriapada village in Odisha. She starts her day by visiting the temple at five in the morning, prepares breakfast and lunch for her husband, an auto driver, and sends her children to school at 9 am.
She then starts working as an electric sister from lunch and 10 am to 6 pm. Lopamudra divides the remaining time between making dinner for a family of six and checking in on their children’s homework. Before the day is over, she prepares a daily collection sheet and records all payments and sends it to the concerned DISCOM officials.
Lopamudra started working as a power sister on January 10, 2020, a daily routine. About 70 more women are being trained in providing viable electricity services in 53 gram panchayats in Odisha.
Each electricity didi serves about 600 to 800 customers for about five hours every day. This includes collecting bill payments and taking care of customers when they gather at places like village chowk, local temple, gram panchayat offices, and mandis.
This has resulted in over 5,000 customers receiving monthly bills regularly and an additional 8,000 customers have started paying their bills on time. More than 1,250 homes and 300 enterprises were onboard and connected to the solar grid.
Effect of COVID-19
After the state announced a complete shutdown during the weekend following the proliferation of local curfews, control zones and coroniers for 12 hours, the power Didi’s movements are now banned.
Based on the security data available on the government’s contact tracing app Arogya Setu, Bijli Didi is now calling customers to a particular location and completing as many bill collection tasks as possible.
In fact, they are educating and aware of the necessary precautions to protect customers from getting infected with coronavirus.
In addition to practicing security measures to use hand sanitizers, face shields, and masks, they are also provided with a face shield with a QR code to download online payment apps for DISCOMs and the Aarogya Setu app so that people COVID In 19 cases, neighborhoods can remain informed about them.
Building Model Distribution Jones
Smart India Power, a subsidiary of the Rockefeller Foundation, was launched in 2015 to support end-to-end electrification in energy-deprived rural areas.
Jaydeep Mukherjee, CEO of Smart Power India, says, “We have started installing solar mini grids to deliver electricity to villages where grid access to electricity is limited or power is extremely irregular for homes and businesses.”
The lesson of the first four years, says Jaideep, was that people used to deliver reliable electricity with quality customer service. This gave him the confidence to help DISCOMs in Odisha which were able to recover only 50 to 60 percent of the entire payment.
Most of the state-owned DISCOMMS were incurring heavy losses, leading to poor service. In August 2019, Smart Power India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and formed a partnership with the Central Power Supply Utility of Odisha (CESU) to improve power facility in the state. It was also intended to build a model distribution area with quality electricity as an enabler.
Going forward, SPI has planned to recruit more than 6000 electricity Didis in Odisha’s 4000 Gram Panchayats.
Towards financial freedom
While electricity is an important element for socio-economic development, the concept of electricity didi has ensured a sense of economic freedom for women who now earn a monthly salary of Rs 5,000.
“Salary helps me buy medicines for my mother who suffers from asthma and high blood pressure. My father died four years ago, after which our distress increased, ”says Arundhanti Bhol, 24, the only earning member in a family of four.
As she helps the people of her village in bill payments and other problems related to electricity, these Bijle Didis are to create a new independent route for themselves.