Power pals bring clean energy to villages

Maharashtra NGO creates 60 Urja Sakhis in Nalanda and Gaya villages & introduces solar lights

By Shuchismita Chakraborty
  • Published 26.10.16
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Women stitch while using solar light in Atasarai village. Picture by Ashok Sinha

Pinki Devi from Nalanda district no longer worries that her husband's asthma will deteriorate for kerosene fumes because she has turned to solar lights from April.

The 34-year-old resident of Atasaray village in Nalanda district relied on kerosene lanterns for light at night. But this March, her husband was diagnosed with asthma and hospitalised for a few days.

"The doctors told me that my husband might have developed asthma because of exposure to harmful gases (carbon monoxide) from burning of the kerosene lamp," Pinki told The Telegraph. "We don't have electricity at home because we cannot afford to pay the bill. Dharmsheela Devi in the village introduced me to solar lights. I bought a piece of solar light from her and since then have not had to depend on kerosene lanterns anymore."

This is the story of many in the village around 85km east of Patna, where Urja Sakhis - as women like Dharmsheela are called - are introducing solar lights among the people and generating income opportunities.

A Maharashtra-based NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog has been training women in Nalanda and Gaya districts since December 2015 to become clean-energy entrepreneurs and helping them sell affordable solar light products. The NGO has tied up with a company that provides the lights at subsidised rates.

Last month the NGO bagged the UN Climate award for its clean energy initiative in Bihar and Maharashtra.

Sumant Singh, the programme manager, said there are 60 Urja Sakhis in three blocks of Nalanda and Gaya. "We are figuring out where else we can start a similar training programme," he said, adding that the NGO conducted a two-year programme in Muzaffarpur from 2012 for Urja Sakhis to sell clean-energy products.

"We decided to engage women in this model because we thought that only they can realise the family's energy needs," Sumant added.

Forty-year-old Dharmsheela from Atasaray village Devi, who sold her first solar light to Pinki Devi, said she could not understand what the NGO officials were trying to teach when they first approached her. "After training, I bought one solar light and only after did I realise its importance," she said. "Though I have an electricity connection at home and there's 16-18 hours power at the village, going to the fields to relieve ourselves in the dark is difficult. Now, we take the solar lanterns with us and also save on Rs 150-200 electricity bill that we had to pay every month."

Savita Devi, a resident of Ben village in Nalanda district, said her popularity level has soared since becoming a clean energy entrepreneur.

"People now are recognising my work in the village and I even won the sarpanch election this July," said Sarita, adding that she enjoys 20 per cent profit on every solar light product she sells.

Their customers are also happy. Ben resident Rajkumari Devi said: "I run a small grocery shop which I could only run till 6pm in the absence of electricity connection. Now with my solar light, I am open till 8pm."