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Blackout villages get sunny messiah in his seventies

When 76-year-old Ranchi resident P.P. Verma meets his friends from IIT-Kharagpur at a reunion later this month, he will perhaps be the only man with a plan.

At a time when most of his contemporaries have taken refuge in memories, Verma is busy lighting up the homes of thousands of villagers.

The IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, a mechanical engineer who made Jharkhand his home since 1983, has embarked on a mission to set up low-cost power projects in villages with no or low electricity penetration. The move assumes significance in a state where government’s rural electrification schemes have made slow progress.

So far, Verma has used his technical skills to establish three power projects. While the first two are in Seraikela-Kharsawan and Hazaribagh, the third has been set up Bihar’s Siwan district.

Asked regarding the motivation behind his endeavour, Verma said like-minded people from Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum — a voluntary outfit working in the field of rural development — inspired him to embark on this sunny mission in the autumn of his life.

“After retirement, I wanted to illuminate villages, which form India’s backbone. Gandhian philosophy motivated me and I found similar minds in the forum,” he said.

So, what is a ‘Verma’ project?

These low-cost projects use the concept of steam engine, earlier used to run trains. Boiling water produces steam, used to run an alternator that produces electricity. Locally available combustible materials such as coal, fodder and even dry leaves are used to boil water.

Each project produces 10KW, sufficient to light up 200 houses during night hours, run flour, rice and oil mills as well as water pumps during the day.

The best part of the project is its cost-effectiveness. Setting up the facility costs Rs 7-8 lakh, meagre compared to the crores spent on mega power projects.

Maintenance charges come to around Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 per month. Villagers, delighted with the gift of light, do not begrudge the nominal shared amount.

The power facility requires just 300sqft of land and does not cause displacement of masses.

Lately, Nabard has come ahead to provide financial assistance in setting up these projects.

Verma added that he had joined hands with a local film production firm to make a documentary on these projects. The 12-minute documentary has been named Gandhi ka Charkha.

Arun Prakash, director of Shruti Visual Information Private Limited, the film company that made the documentary, said he was inspired by Verma’s work.

“When he (Verma) took me to a location, I was impressed to find a power plant managed solely by villagers,” Prakash said.

Verma is also eager to share his achievement with his peers.

“I passed out of IIT, Kharagpur, in 1964. My alma mater has organised a golden jubilee celebration of our graduation from January 17 to 19. Nearly 37 of my contemporaries will attend the reunion. I will show them the documentary that illustrates my contribution to society,” he said.

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