With a toothless grin on her face, 75-year-old Mangari Devi excitedly shows the switches installed in her small mud house, saying, “Our village has become a town.”
With electricity in her Benduakona hamlet of Ramja Village (Koba Panchayat) in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, Mangari, a widow, lives alone in her single room house.
She can now cook after dark.
Mangari is one of the beneficiaries of the solar electrification project implemented by social organisation, Pradan, in the six Panchayats of Gumla district. This project has been funded by Bank of America.
In a state like Jharkhand, where an uninterrupted power supply is still a distant dream even in the capital, 12 villages housing more than 500 families in two blocks (Gumla and Raidih) are getting a 24×7 power supply, thanks to solar electrification.
“There was no power connection in our village earlier, and we used to light kerosene lamps at night. Not only do we use bulbs now but also use various electrical gadgets,” says Geeta Devi, a mother of two. Her children can now study after dark.
Bhinjpur, a village in the Raidih block, has a population of 700 with 113 houses. The village is about 60 kms away from the district headquarters with no pukka roads to reach there. One has to cross around 16 km of dense forest to reach this interior village.
The village, which had no electricity connection, was freed from the lantern era in 2017 with Pradan’s help.
Debanjan Ghatak, team coordinator of Pradan in Gumla, says, “Earlier, the villagers used kerosene lamps which generated excessive carbon monoxide, which is harmful to the lungs. Also, it used to be too expensive for the villagers at Rs 51 per litre. The public distribution system too was irregular.”
Now, the villagers of Bhinjpur have light bulbs, television and the latest electrical gadgets. The kitchens of their houses have been upgraded, and the women can be seen using mixers instead of mortar and pestles, and cooling water in fridges.
More than 30 houses in the village not only have television sets but also DTH connections.
Drigpal Singh, a resident of Bhinjpur village, and member of the Panchayat Sadasya Samiti at Kobja Panchayat, says, “Earlier, we were cut off from the entire world, but now, we can watch the happenings across the globe on our television.”
Pradan has successfully entered the third year of the solar electrification project in 12 villages of the district. Further, since the project started, none of these villages has suffered a power cut even for a minute.
Ghatak said, “We have also installed street lights in all the villages. The women can move around at night without the fear of being a victim to any crime.”
Solar electricity is also helping the villagers to earn a better living. Right from using solar power in irrigation and farming to starting their own photocopy and cold drink shops, the villagers have come a long way.
Santoshi Devi says, “I have bought a mini rice mill which works on solar energy. I charge Re 1 per kg from those who want to use it. It has made me an entrepreneur.”
She makes between Rs 5,000-10,000 during the harvest season.
Vinod Kumar has started a photocopy shop in the village. He says, “People would have to go to the market around 25 km away to get any documents photocopied. But now, my shop caters to three neighbouring villages along with mine.”
In addition to his earnings from farming, he makes up to Rs 5,000 per month from this shop.
Rahul Pathak, a field executive of Pradan working with the beneficiaries, informed that in 2016, Bank of America had given a one-time grant for the solar grid installation. Its ownership has now been given to the community. He shares that the women of the villages do everything, right from planning the installation of the power grids to the maintenance. And the land for grid installation had been given by the Gram Samiti.
The installation of a solar power grid costs around Rs 50,000 per family. Thus, if a village has 50 families, the installation cost for that village would be Rs 25 lakh.
Pathak adds, “While BoA has given us a one-time fund under their CSR activity and the batteries have a guarantee of five years, the maintenance work after the fifth year required expenditure. To meet this expense, a meter had been installed in every household, for which, the families pay a small price.”
The minimum price is fixed at Rs 60, after which the villagers pay the bill on per unit of consumption. Depending on their usage, each household pays between Rs 90 and 150 per month.
Pathak continues, “The money is deposited in the bank account of the women committee in every village. It is being used to pay the operators of the grid, while the remaining amount is being saved for maintenance purposes.”
In its third year of solar electrification, Pradan now works towards providing clean drinking water using solar water filters in 12 villages. These fall under seven Gram Panchayats in Gumla–Parsa, Kansir, Sikoe, Kobja, Jarjatta, Silam and Dumardih.
Debanjan Ghatak concludes, “Around 500 families will be benefitted under this scheme. The work is on and the water filter plants will be handed over to the community in another six months.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)