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And then there was light...

Apr 05, 2010

A whole lot of energy initiatives taken across the rural parts of Maharashtra are bringing about remarkable changes in the lives of marginalised villagers

A typically dusty and rather uneven road leads to a village called Shivaji Nagar located around 40 kms from Pune in Western Maharashtra. It’s the evening hour and almost every person from the 220 homes in this village has gathered to watch a “magical” event.

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And their dreams and hopes are soon realised when 220 solar lamps come to life and for the first time ever since they made this village their home, the darkness has been dispelled. A thunderous applause emanating from around 1,500 villagers vibrates the air.

“This is just the beginning. Shivaji Nagar will be transformed into a model village in the next five years based on the five H method of the Youth Leadership Training Programme of the Art of Living Foundation,” says Amol Bhujbal, its state coordinator.

The five H method comprises developing homes, building of facilities for hygiene, undertaking health awareness initiatives, instilling human values and facilitating harmony. Brought about the under the aegis of Project Dharma of the AOL Foundation, Shivaji Nagar (so named because this area was one of those used as a training ground by the Maratha ruler Shivaji Maharaj) has seen light after ineffectively locking horns with the bureaucracy ever since it was set up in the mid-seventies.

"For those whose working day would come to an end as soon as the sun had set, solar lamps will now mean that they can go about their tasks for longer hours and most importantly"

“The famine in 1972 drove several families out of Marathwada in search of food, work and a better life. They settled here due to its proximity to Pune. But we could not get the state government to provide us with electricity because of a dispute about the land on which our houses have been built,” informs Prabhakar Kamble who has been living here for 33 years.

For these villagers, whose working day would come to an end as soon as the sun had set, solar lamps will now mean that they can go about their tasks for longer hours and most importantly, as resident Vijay Mangre points out, it will help children study.

“We have a zilla parishad school here but our children could not do their home work during the late evening hours. Now, they will be able to and hopefully the next generation will do wonders for the development of Shivaji Nagar,” Mangre adds. Interestingly, small though such attempts may seem in the larger picture of the country’s march to achieving economic strength, they do a lot to change the lives of such marginalised villagers.

A similar case is that of village Mohri, located around 100 kms from Pune in Velhe taluka. Till recently, the villagers had been dependent on kerosene lamps for lack of a power connection from the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Board’s grid. But today, the village is all lit up thanks to solar energy.

Mohri is a sleepy hamlet with 25 houses belonging to shepherds, woodcutters and small farmers and the change that has taken place here is due to the interest taken by Ranjit Mohite, a Pune-based UPS manufacturer, who installed two KED (light-emitting diode) lamps in the homes, along with solar street lamps for the entire village. The village is now 100 per cent powered.

When it comes to using eco-friendly energy, the residents of Mahajane village in Raigad district have found a unique solution. They use karanj oil to operate tractors and machines and save on fossil fuels. This is due to a project undertaken by the Pune-based Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) in which oil is extracted from karanj (Pongamia pinnata) seeds to help meet the energy requirements, provide employment and increase the income of the 800-odd villagers in Mahajane. It is one of the 17 projects in the world and one of the three projects in India funded by the World Bank to generate biofuel to improve rural energy services and reduce poverty.

“Mahajane was chosen since it has the highest density of karanj trees. The seeds yield 25 to 30 per cent oil. AERF has set up an oil-extracting machine at a cost of around Rs 1.5 lakh in a two-room house in the village. The machine has the capacity to crush 20 kgs of seeds per hour. Two village youths, Manoj Avachatkar and Devidas Patil, have been trained to operate the machine,” informs Jayant Sarnaik, Deputy Director and Project-in-Charge.

The Mahajane villagers have tested and reported that a 5 HP engine operated on one litre of biodiesel functioned for 15 minutes longer than one operated on diesel. “The oil could also be used to run a genset for the village to generate power during load-shedding,” Sarnaik adds.

There are many more such stories. Another one, for instance, is that of village Jalka which had been famous by Rahul Gandhi after having mentioned Kalavati’s case in the parliament in 2009 post his tour of the rural parts of Maharashtra to observe at close quarters the lives of the beleaguered farmers. Jalka, supported by a Greenpeace campaign, soon opted for clean and reliable energy in two schools which set up solar panels to power ten fans and a computer.

“Now my children have a future” said Kalavati, whose two daughters and two sons are among the 100 children who experienced accessible solar power.

Twelve hundred residents of Jalka village, enthused by the reliable energy option in their village, voted for this energy by signing up on the poster prepared by their school children demanding complete solar energy in the village. That is how the zilla parishad-managed school acquired its 1.7 kWh and 280 W panels. And then of course there is the case of Ahire, a small village in Maharashtra, which got electricity for the first time in 2009, 62 years after the country’s independence, when the government installed solar panels in the village, thus illuminating the lives of 85 families.

"There was no water and no electricity in our village. We were deprived of even the basic facilities. People did not want to marry their daughters with men of our village because of this impoverished state. But now things are improving,” says villager Shivaji Bhide. Just a little light is what it all takes to make the future bright.

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