And then, there was light

And then, there  was light

From darkness to light. That’s Shabeena’s story. This farm labourer does not have to hurry home from her work to cook before it gets dark. The small kerosene lamp in her house has been replaced by three LED (light emitting diodes) lights.

The kerosene lamps that were a ubiquitous part of most homes have been replaced by LED lights in the remote hamlets of Malnad. Right: More light indirectly means more time to work in the fields and more income.Her five-member family at Kenchanala village in Thirthahalli taluk had never seen an electric bulb earlier. These LED lights have changed her life. Now, she cooks in a leisurely manner. Her children too can study for extended hours, thanks to the joint initiative of Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF) an NGO and Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Programme (SKRDP).

“I used to rush home to cook before it got dark in the evening. Now, I can cook anytime using the light, so I work an extra hour in the field to earn more,” says a relieved Shabeena.

There are many stories like Shabeena’s. Several remote villages in the Malnad region have not seen electricity even today. The government finds it “costly” to provide electricity to these hamlets with very few houses. Places like Konanduru, Humcha and other hoblis in Shimoga district are deep inside the dense forests of the Western Ghats. Most families here still depend on kerosene lamps to dispel darkness. “Most of the hamlets have hardly five to six houses. It is not technically feasible for KPTCL to extend electricity to these parts. It involves huge costs,” says Raghavendra Prasad of Energy Elevations.

Energy Elevations is an enterprise launched by S3IDF to carry out its lighting programmes in Malnad villages. The NGO has selected Thirthahalli and Hosanagar taluks in Shimoga district to provide reliable and uninterrupted lighting systems. The project was launched on an experimental basis.

Why this region?
Malnad region is known for its natural beauty and resources. However, many parts of Malnad have still not seen electrification. Hilly terrains, seasonal strong winds and heavy rain have meant that the region experiences severe power outages even if there is electricity in some villages. Power cuts are very common. Many homes located far away from village centres, such as forest interiors, are unable to benefit from conventional energy supply.

The Development Fund has launched many initiatives in Karnataka to provide infrastructure facilities to people. They are environment friendly, too. Their work includes supply of pressure cookers and water filters. Their hawkers’ light point scheme is a flagship project where hawkers are provided with battery operated lights every day. The project is on in Bangalore, Hassan, Dharwad and Udupi districts.

“S3IDF provides pro-poor basic infrastructure services by fostering small scale businesses. We facilitate financial assistance from banks for the entrepreneurs and link them up to appropriate technology suppliers. Our purpose is to motivate local people to start small businesses, enterprises that have safety, health and environment benefits while using local resources only,” says Vipula Sharma, CFO & Acting CEO, S3IDF.
The project was envisaged in September last year and launched in January this year. But how good is a solar energy source in Malnad region which is known for its heavy downpour? “The lighting module is sustainable even if the sun plays hide and seek for three days. The LED lights are power saving lamps, and with a charged battery, it can continue to light a home for three days,” Raghavendra Prasad explains.
An average lighting solution consists of three LED lights of three watts each, a rooftop solar grid panel for charging and a small control unit and a storage battery.
However, the lighting system is priced at Rs 11,500. When S3IDF formulated the system and prepared for the launch, the question of finance came up.

Micro credit loans
The pricing is not exactly affordable for villagers who are predominantly labourers. The organisation approached SKRDP to provide micro credit loans.

The rural development programme organises self help groups, and also provides training and financing through micro credit loans.

Today, there are 80 to 100 direct beneficiaries of the project. Ameena Bi, a beedi roller from Agrahara, Indira, a tailor from Konanduru or Vasu, a petty shop owner from Malalimakki all appreciate the project which has brought light to their lives.

For those who run small home enterprises, whose livelihoods are disrupted when power cuts happen, it is a boon. With the new LED lights they can now run their businesses well past sunset if they choose, a convenience that translates into increased income, a better quality of life and improved living conditions.

“Initially, the hawkers’ light points projects operational in Karnataka extensively used CFL bulbs. But now with affordable and better technology available, most of our projects are based on LED lights which the entrepreneurs have also eagerly accepted,” notes Arpana Udupa, Project Co-ordinator, S3IDF.

After successful initiatives in Shimoga, S3IDF intends to extend the project to Chikmagalur district.

Attempts are on to launch the scheme in Tarikere and Kadur taluks. The organisation wants to tie up with other financial institutions like local cooperative banks.

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