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Rahul turf basks in solar energy glow

Lucknow, Sept. 4: Rahul Gandhi and then UK foreign secretary David Miliband had “electrified” Amethi with their visit four years ago.

R.K. Pachauri and British minister Baroness Verma did so today, literally.

Tanda, a tiny village in Rahul’s pocket borough that so far had no power, plugged into solar energy under a project piloted by environmentalist Pachauri and his foundation.

Tanda is part of “Lighting a Billion Lives”, an alternative energy project being implemented by Pachauri’s The Energy and Resource Institute (Teri) with UK as a partner.

“The problem in India is particularly acute with almost 400 million people without access to electricity and almost twice this number using biomass for cooking on highly inefficient and polluting stoves,” said Pachauri, who won the 2007 Nobel with former US Vice-President Al Gore for environmental protection.

Rahul wasn’t present today but the air was thick with speculation about whether the event was meant as a tribute to the MP.

The project’s foundations were laid in 1996 when studies were commissioned and Tanda was picked for a trial run with just four homes.

Today, the cluster of around 3,000 households stood fully covered by the project that now extends to 400 other Uttar Pradesh villages not covered by the state power grid.

The state faces an acute power crisis with a shortfall of 1,900MW, leading to long blackouts. The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi government has unveiled alternative energy plans but isn’t involved with the Teri project in any way.

“In Uttar Pradesh, this may be a small initiative but this is going to make far-reaching changes in the lives of the poor,” said Verma, the junior minister in the UK’s department of energy and climate change.

“India and UK are working together on this innovative project,” Verma, born in Punjab, added.

Smoke-free stoves run by solar power are being provided under the project. Women are key stakeholders, trained to promote clean-energy technologies in their areas.

Over 2,300 villages in other states are also part of the programme, including some in the Sunderbans in Bengal and flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, said project supervisor I.M. Rahman.

To many back in Amethi, today’s event seemed a far cry from the dark, cold January night in 2009 when Rahul and guest Miliband stayed in a shanty to get a feel of rural India and its problems.