Mumbai: How many years has it taken successive governments to install a light bulb at Elephanta Island? The answer is 70 years, which probably counts as the most poignant of all light bulb jokes. On Thursday, this picturesque location just 10 km off Mumbai was finally electrified by undersea cable.
The 1,200-odd inhabitants who live on Elephanta were dressed in festive finery as CM Devendra Fadnavis arrived to inaugurate the MSEDCL power supply. A flick of a switch lit up several LED bulbs which had been installed in homes, canteens and pathways.
“A few households in the three villages of Shetbunder, Rajbunder and Morabunder that paid for connections have received individual meters. The rest will soon subscribe,” said Dattu Gharat.
Residents claim the island did have electricity during British rule but supply lines were reportedly torn down after 1947.Former CM Sharad Pawar had allocated funds but nothing came of it.
The tourist island has waged a long struggle with poor infrastructure. Elderly women like Janabai Gharat climb 120 steps to the historic caves to collect rain water for drinking. There is no school or doctor. “A medical emergency requires us to travel out,” said housewife Namita Gharat.
“We wind up our business at dusk. Children go to school in Uran or Mumbai and are forced to study only in the daylight hours. We cook by candlelight, charge big batteries by generator supply in the evening, and use that battery to power cellphones,” said Bhakti Bhuvad, a young bride from Dombivli who married into a family in Elephanta.
“We bring blocks of ice from Mumbai and dig pits in the ground with sawdust and sand. This is how we freeze cold drinks and Bisleri water for tourists. And when we charge a little more than MRP to cover these costs, we are labelled cheats. In a World Heritage Site thronged by foreign tourists, outsiders cannot stay overnight because there are no hotels… Every single item is brought from the mainland,” said the elderly Dattatraya Ghone.
So, a wave of relief swept the islanders Thursday. “Past experiments with solar power ended up in the junkyard. Hope the undersea power lines will not let us down,” said Shubhangi Mayne.
These travails may soon be a thing of the past. A certain loss of innocence was unmistakable, though. Elephanta was drowning in laser lights and loudspeakers as the inauguration ceremony started at dusk. “People are discussing plans for a shopping centre. Cellphone towers will come up too and so will ATMs. It will be like Mumbai,” said the senior Gharat.