The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sunshine on pandals, day & night

Calcutta, Oct. 16: For Moushuni and Chhotomollakhali islands in the Sunderbans, the Pujas this time had that extra sparkle. Thanks to solar power, the pandals throbbed with life well past dusk.

“Families who don’t have solar connections at their homes were eager to pay extra bills for the pandals. As a result, we decided to extend the solar service from dusk to dawn,” said S.P. Gan Chowdhury, director of the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Authority (WBREDA). After the Durga Puja success, it has now planned to extend the solar power supply during Kali Puja.

A series of solar panels spread over Bagdanga and Sagar tapped sunlight while a band of 240-volt batteries converted it to electricity, unaffected even when the sky was cloudy. “These cells need only a little sunlight to get charged and can cater to local demand for two to three days even in overcast conditions,” Gan Chowdhury said.

The solar power system neither trips because of low frequency, nor do solar lamps flicker. The local boatmen use these lamps at night and, during the Pujas, they hire them out for immersion, he added.

“Last year, the WBREDA had lent these solar panels to a puja pandal at Behala for display. But, this time, we did not give it to them. Instead, we reached out to the islands where conventional power lines can’t reach,” Gan Chowdhury said.

They were buoyed by the local response. Villagers from distant areas walked up to the power station at Bagdanga asking for the bare minimum — enough power to light up the pandal and keep the cassette-player going, overnight connections to the village haat and the video hall. Traders would foot the major share of the bill with households chipping in. “They wanted to share the increased costs though many of these households spend the nights in dark,” the WBREDA director said.

Non-conventional power officials have taken stock of demand and fixed a minimum charge for each such additional point. “We have already installed electronic metres in some of the village households to compute the units used. We will put them to use in the pandals also. Or we may go for prepaid cards for temporary connections,” he said.

But the glow of the bulbs in the pandals cannot chase away the darkness that envelopes the lives of the islanders once the sun sets. Gan Chowdhury conceded that it was not possible to render uninterrupted supply to the villages.

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