While the problem of rural electrification continues to baffle us, a silent progress has been taking place in different parts of India and, in particular, in West Bengal. Before I reveal to you what the nature of this progress is, here are some district wise details concerning the state of electrification of rural households in West Bengal.
||Percent of Rural Household
Provided with Electricity
|North 24 Parganas
South 24 Parganas
Source: Government of West Bengal
Some may not be concerned about this and I have no quarrel with them. However, I do think these figures indicate that something is totally wrong with the decibel level of our economic growth anthem. Crores of village children have no access to clean light sources during the night. They use kerosene lamps to acquire whatever dismal education our society offers them. These lamps are not environmentally friendly and are definitely a health hazard for the little kids.
But, as I said, a silent progress is afoot. A number of small and medium enterprises in West Bengal are investing seriously in solar energy creation. One among them is Sulekha, a company that used to produce fountain pen ink in the days of yore. It was declared sick in the late eighties I think and thanks to the relentless efforts of its Director (Mr. Kaushik Maitra), the company is now out of the woods and producing a whole array of goods, including solar lanterns. I received the following message from this gentleman today:
"This lantern was supplied by FREED at Jamespur, Sunderbans and donated by Sulekha Solar.
A baby was born on 31st Dec 2011, at around midnight. There were some complications. We were told by the person who delivered the baby that thanks to the Solar Lantern, a mishap was avoided."
Here is a photograph of that life saving lantern! And the baby too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It is a relatively easy task it would seem to electrify villages. We don't need large plots of land to set up thermal power plants. Instead, a simple solar panel in every household will take us a long way. And happily enough, some entrepreneurs are producing these. The one in the picture costs around Rs. 2,000. Shouldn't it make us think? A pollution free device with zero running cost is already available. Yet the powers that be are negotiating with BIG investors to build power plants. Power plants are a necessity for sure, but not for carrying electricity to rural households. And, incidentally, a small businessman is running a xerox machine in the Sunderban area with the help of solar energy!
A Chennai based organization v-shesh is carrying out a charitable exercise. It has discovered a locality in Orissa which has no electricity at all. It appealed to people across India to donate small sums of money to help them purchase solar lanterns (costing only Rs. 399.00) for the deprived children. I thought it worth my while to make a contribution, even though there was a risk that I was dealing with a fake organization. The way I argued to myself was simple enough. There was a chance that I was being hoodwinked, but that didn't amount to a loss I couldn't bear. On the other hand, if I was not being cheated, a few children would benefit immensely. And their gain would be far greater than my possible loss. I have now received the following mail from them:
"Season's greetings and wishes for a healthy, happy and successful 2012 from Light a Lamp team!
While lamps were ordered a few weeks ago, transportation of these lamps was delayed due to paperwork related requirements. We have since been able to complete various formalities (with local sales tax department) and lamps have finally reached Sambalpur from where they will travel further to Bolangir for distribution. However schools are now closed for winter vacations and we hope to start the distribution post January 5th. Estimating 2 weeks for distribution, we hope to complete the project by end-Jan 2012.
Thank you for your patience and we look forward to updating you in January of distribution being completed.
Light a Lamp team"
Friends, I thought I should keep you informed that all's not for the worst in this worst of all possible worlds!