Solar power lights up 10 Karnataka villages
Plagued by power shortage but determined to find a way out, 10 villages in Karnataka have switched to solar power. Kerosene lamps and ‘chullahs’ are now things of the past. Anitha Pailoor documents this journey from darkness to light.d to light
It’s half past eight in a tiny village called Neeralakatti, 15 km from Dharwad where Mangala is sitting at home, busy grading farm-picked brinjals as she has to send the vegetables to the market early next day.
Kamalavva is preparing dinner while her children are completing their homework. Although the village suffers from intermittent electricity supply, villagers don’t seem disturbed by this problem as they carrying on their daily activities using solar lamps installed in their homes. Solar energy has helped light up lives of 80 homes in this village.
Cheap and best, say the villagers
Houses in these villages lack light and ventilation, and women who spend most of their time in the kitchen are the worst sufferers. Solar lights, installed in kitchens, have made their lives so much better.
Karnataka Vikas Grameena Bank (KVGB), a leading rural bank in Karnataka, started introducing solar lighting in the villages in 1994. Though the awareness campaign was on, it gained momentum in the early years of this decade when North Karnataka was hit by drought for three consecutive years.
Frequent power failures prompted villagers to look for options other than grid electricity. Although they managed with electricity supplied by the government, severe load-shedding caused a lot of problems and brought a halt to their routine activities in the evenings.
KVGB worked beyond the role of a banker to inform villagers about the significance of installing solar lamps. “The productivity of the villagers has increased considerably. Most people in these villages are farmers, who work round-the-clock. Now they don’t have to sit idle in the evenings due to power failures,” says Vasudev Kalkundri, General Manager, KVGB. Solar lamps are especially useful to the children who can study late into the night.
“Solar lamps have saved us from power cuts, particularly during examinations,” says Bharati, a student in Devagiri village. Almost 70 per cent of the houses in both Neeralakatti and Devagiri have the solar lighting facility. A unit, comprising two lamps and one panel, costs Rs 13,500. A smokeless chullah is also provide as a complementary addition. A charged solar panel can light up two lamps for four hours.
Those who need more lighting and can afford it may opt for the two-panel system. The bank lends Rs 11,500 at an annual interest of 12 per cent and the loan process is made easy so that the initiative can reach more farmers. As for the remaining amount, it has to be borne by the farmer. In some villages, farmers have also received this money from non-voluntary organisations (NGOs) working for the cause.
Bank leads the way
The bank has also got the support of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy for organising awareness camps, and 44 of its 425 rural branches run exclusively on solar power. As their computers too are run on solar power, it facilitates them to ensure uninterrupted service even during unscheduled power-cuts.
Branch managers of the bank visit nearby villages after office hours and hold group meetings. “It requires two or three such meetings at regular intervals to motivate at least a few people in the villages,” explains Nigadi Branch Manager DG Mulgund.
KVGB has its network in nine districts. More than 20,000 houses already have solar power as alternative source of electricity and 14 villages have been declared ‘total solar villages’.
“It is a national priority. We look it as a social responsibility. If our customers are happy and our services efficient, we can definitely become much stronger. We intend to reach another 20,000 houses by next March,” says KP Muralidharan, Chairman of KVGB.
In Devagiri, Kalmesh Kabbur, Babu Pagoji and Somalinga Marevad work together to convince villagers about the advantages of solar power. Babu Pagoji was the first person in the village to bring solar power into his home two years back. “It feels really good to live in a smokeless house,” he says.
The efforts of these people is paying off. Even those who were hesitant initially are now queuing up to get solar power. “Once there was no electricity in the village for three days due to grid failure. Our neighbours saw light in our house and from the next day they all made up their mind to install solar lamps,” recalls Marevad.
The bank contacts solar system manufacturers and suppliers and introduces them to the villagers. People can clear doubts regarding the product’s quality, maintenance, cost etc. In consultation with the bank they decide on their service providers. The bank makes direct payment to the company that has been selected.
Some companies do their bit for the cause by reducing profit margins. “Maintenance is not an issue. We have to clean the bulbs and battery, and refill distilled water when it gets empty. We cannot be fooled with low quality products,” says RS Patil of Neeralakatti with pride.