If you are in a remote village near Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, chances are that you’ll have bad electricity supply, rare phone network and a highly inconvenient public transport system. However, if you have radio set, chances are you can still get the latest news about the region, all thanks to a community radio station called Mandakini ki Awaz (the voice of Mandakini).
Every day from 6am to 9 am, 12pm to 2:30 pm and 3pm to 7:30 pm, Mandakani ki Awaz in Sena Gadsari village, Rugraprayag, can be heard on 90.8 FM. The radio station was launched in September, 2014, by Manvendra Negi’s NGO Mandakini ki Awaz Kalyan Sewa Samiti, with the support of Bangalore-based organisation, People’s Power Collective (PPC).
“The efforts to launch the radio station started from 2001,” said Negi. “Then there was a demand to hand over radio, as a mass medium, to the public for conserving their culture and language. But the broadcast finally started in September 2014.”
In its 20-month long history, the radio station has garnered listeners from 328 villages from Chamoli, Pauri Garhwal and Tehri Garhwal districts of Uttarakhand. The programs are broadcasted in Hindi and Garhwali and are aimed to create awareness, keep listeners informed and entertain them. Special programs are broadcast for women and children on Sundays.
According to Negi, Mandakini ki Awaz has become a champion for its listeners, bringing people’s problems to the government’s notice. “There was a major electricity problem in Khor village for a long time,” he said. “Although the electricity department had made arrangements for power supply in the area sometime back, but people could not get electricity connections. That problem is solved now after they voiced their concern through Mandakani ki Awaz. The department people themselves went there and fixed the problem.” The pride in Negi’s voice is unmistakable.
The station has been a vital channel of communication in times of disaster, be it 2015 earthquake or the ongoing forest fires. On 90.8 FM, the radio has broadcast programmes about forest fire and ways to control it. It is constantly sending out updates from the forest department.
To get information can be a challenge, as the recent forest fires have shown. “We have been trying to contact the forest department to get information about the fires,” Negi said. Unfortunately, this has proved to be complicated. “We are not getting the response that we need,” he lamented. “When we seek information, one official asks to go to another and then he would ask us to go to another and so on. This has been going on for the past two-three weeks.”
The biggest challenge for Mandakini ki Awaz, however, is money. There is reportedly a government fund of Rs 100 crore for community radios. However, it has not been granted to anyone so far, according to Negi. His own ask for Mandakini ki Awaz are small. Erratic power supply in the region and the low capacity of the only diesel generator donated to the station makes running the community radio very difficult and despite the help that the station has provided in times of crisis, the government hasn’t returned the favour.
“To deal with the electricity problem, we had requested the government for a solar power generator,” said Negi. “But according to the government’s current policy, we’ll have to buy it ourselves and then 50% of it will be reimbursed.” Negi said. He pointed out that if he had the money to buy a solar power generator, he wouldn’t have asked the government in the first place.
Fortunately for Negi, the radio station does have the support of the locals, who havealready started collecting funds for the generator to make sure that they stay connected to the world.
Although Mandakini ki Awaz has come into the spotlight with recent disasters, the important place it holds among its listeners has a lot to do with how it provides locals with a platform to explore their creative side. Shivanand Nautiyal, a local resident who heads the production at the community radio station, comes on air as a radio jockey and has a postgraduate degree in Political Science from Garhwal University. He feels that the radio station has given him a new platform to explore his creative side.
“I had heard radio programs before but being a part of one was a new thing for me,” said Nautiyal. “I had never thought that I could be a radio jockey too. I used to sing in villages during Ramlila, but now people across 300 villages of Uttarakhand listen to my songs and appreciate them.”