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Sunny Saranda evenings, courtesy 21 power women

New Delhi, March 31: Manju Cherva (26), a tribal woman of Binua village, West Singhbhum district, is a school dropout. If you ask Manju to spot her block — Manoharpur — on Jharkhand’s map, she’ll fumble. But she’s among 21 women who are making sure that Binua’s children can map their ambition and shine in life by getting to study after sunset.

Binua is one of India’s 18,000-odd villages that live without electricity in India. How it hinders farmers, how it frustrates residents who can afford to buy cellphones or TVs but can’t, how it makes the village unsafe for girls and women after dark are obvious. Equally, and tragically, a village without electricity forces its bright students off textbooks right after sunset.

Now, Manju and 20 other women — who met Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi today — are on a mission to change this. Along with Binua, 20 other villages of Saranda forest area — a total of 2,500 families — will be lit up by solar units that this trained team will fabricate and maintain.

“Whenever I go to Saranda, people ask for electricity. This is good step. This initiative will be scaled up,” Ramesh said.

“My children hate kerosene lamps,” Manju agreed. “Solar lights are so bright and clean,” she said with an expert’s enthusiasm. After all, all these 21 women received a six-month training from Barefoot College, Tilonia, near Ajmer in Rajasthan to install the solar lighting units.

“Each unit comprises a solar panel, a charge controller, battery and bulbs. There is a repair kit too,” Manju filled in the details.

The stint in Rajasthan — the rural women left last September and are now bubbling with confidence and know-how — was a part of the solar lighting project under Ramesh’s ambitious Saranda Action Plan in the former Maoist stronghold still battling the occasional rebel scare and deep scars of poverty.

“Children don’t study and sleep early in the evening. With solar lights, at least they will be up with their books,” Manju promised.

Saranda Action Plan comprises, among road and housing infrastructure and livelihood development, various job-based training.

Under the solar lighting project, the Union ministry of new and renewable energy will provide equipment worth Rs 12,000 to each chosen family while the 21-member woman team will install and maintain the facility.

Tarun Kapur, a joint secretary in the ministry of new and renewable energy, said the solar lighting unit was “sustainable as the panel absorbs energy from sunlight”.

“The equipment being provided to each household will generate 40 watt electricity, enough to support two bulbs for five hours,” he said.

On ‘manning’ the job, the women sounded professional.

“It’s not that we are talking big. We have learnt to repair minor damage to any equipment. We will also train other women in our area on installing and maintaining these solar facilities,” Mungli Kerai, Manju’s Barefoot College classmate from the neighbouring Mamar village.

Inda Jamuda, also of Mamar, said children in Saranda’s villages hardly complete Class X. “No electricity, not enough schools. How do you expect our children to be educated?”

“There are 909 villages yet to get electricity and these will get solar power in a phased manner. We will also continue with our normal conventional electrification activities,” Jharkhand’s resident commissioner Vimal Kirti Singh said.

That makes sense, Kapur pointed out. “Villagers can continue to use solar power as back-up even when they get conventional electricity supply. There are heavy power cuts in rural areas,” he said.


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