Electricity reaches Indian landmark at last

The Unesco world heritage-listed island of Elephanta in India is renowned for its ancient temple caves.
The Unesco world heritage-listed island of Elephanta in India is renowned for its ancient temple caves.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MUMBAI • Ms Deepa Bhoir used to sit in darkness outside her home and stare at Mumbai glowing in the distance. Now she stays up late watching TV - one of millions of Indians whose lives have been changed by a drive to get power to every corner of the country.

Ms Bhoir and her husband Sasuram are among hundreds of villagers on the Unesco world heritage-listed island of Elephanta to have had electricity installed in their houses for the first time.

Local officials hope tourists, who take a short boat ride from the bustle of Mumbai to visit the island's famed fifth-century caves, will spend more time and money there, boosting local businesses and jobs.

The island is renowned for its temple caves dating back more than 1,500 years and is home to around 1,200 people. But despite living just 10km from India's financial capital, islanders have spent much of their lives without power.

More than 16,000 villages have been electrified since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, according to government data. There are still an estimated 33 million households without electricity and Mr Modi wants them all to have power by year-end.

A meter was installed in the Bhoirs' home last month after the Maharashtra state government completed its 250-million-rupee (S$5 million) electrification project for the island.

Engineers spent three months laying a 7km undersea cable linking a mainland substation to transformers in each Elephanta village.

In brightly painted homes, ceiling fans now whirl at high speed as light bulbs illuminate dark rooms.

Elephanta, also known as Gharapuri, meaning "the city of caves" is a world away from Mumbai. Monkeys outnumber humans and there are no cars on the island.

Every week, Ms Tulsa Bhoir makes the one-hour boat trip to Mumbai to buy fresh vegetables, milk and other foodstuffs. The 43-year-old hopes electricity will spur infrastructure.

Several thousand people visit the island's seven caves daily, but leave before the last boat at 5.30pm and rarely venture into the villages.

Officials hope electricity will persuade them to spend the night.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'Electricity reaches Indian landmark at last'. Print Edition | Subscribe