Illuminating the dark-dense forests of Chhattisgarh
In the deep-dark forests of the Achanakmar tiger reserve in Chhattisgarh, scattered over an expanse of 557.55 square kilometers, wild animals and humans coexist. As dusk falls, it is time for the wild to emerge, forcing the humans to lock themselves in. What is common on both sides of the locked doors is darkness, for there is no electricity in the villages falling in the buffer zones of the reserve. Or so it used to be.
Today, residents of Bamhani, a far flung village in the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, have moved on from the days of sheer darkness, with lit bulbs, charged mobile phones, refrigerators and water-motors becoming increasingly common. The credit for this silent revolution transpiring in the dense jungles goes to the Government and non-Government organizations - and the villages are now lit up and better still, using natural light.
Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a non-Government organization with expertise in the field of healthcare, is one of the non-Government organizations that have distributed solar lights in the area in the last three years. Besides, the Government's Energy Department has also provided power to these villages by installing solar plants. Most of the villages in this region have street lights as well as domestic lights through solar energy.
"From preparing food at night to a walk towards the farm, a minimum quantity of light is always required. Villages with no electricity or heavy power cuts face far more challenges in their day--to-day life. Electricity shortage also affects healthcare directly. Because, if there is a power cut during one's dinner, one is unlikely to enjoy one's meal. This was a major reason why cheap solar lights were provided in the area," explains Sant Kumar, a Jan Swasthya Sahyog activist.
For the last three years, Jan Swasthya Sahyog has assisted with making solar lights available in villages in Lormi region of Mungeli District and Kota region of Bilaspur district. Though the cost of one solar light is Rs 500, for health activists it is available for Rs 250 and for villagers, at a nominal rate of Rs 100.
The government's Electricity Department has its own solar plant in villages with no power supply. Unfortunately, it often remains switched off during the monsoon season as the sun is not visible for many days at a stretch. Ironically, it is that time of year when people actually need more power. Adivasis are used to sleeping on the ground without beds or cots (charpais) and hence often become victim to snake or scorpion bites. The presence of solar lights could easily prevent this hazard. Explains Sant Kumar, "The light we provide saves energy. Once the battery is recharged, it can work for two days. This light can also be charged in the cloudy season."
Located amid lush green forests is the picturesque village of Chiraigoda, with wooden houses constructed far from one another. This village is home to the Uraon Adiwasis. "I have two solar lights, of which only one is in good condition. It helps my children to study after dark and in the preparation of food. It has also made our night trails easier, helping us keep a check on our fields. Paddy seeds can be threshed in the light of a solar bulb. Often, we hang the solar light on trees to keep the wild animals at bay," shares Dhaniram Ekka, a local adivasi, with evident satisfaction.
He adds, "Earlier, we would never receive adequate kerosene from the ration shop, only a liter a month. Those were difficult times."
"The service provided by government solar plants is not satisfactory as they remain inactive for want of repairs. Jan Swasthya Sahyog purchased the plant from a Mumbai based company that has given one year's guarantee and if it gets faulty during the year, the company will either replace it or repair it. In future, we wish to train a mechanic who can repair it locally," shares Sant Ram.
Indeed, the Charkha Development Communication network feels that as villagers become comfortable with the new eco-friendly technology, a brighter future lies ahead for them and the planet.
(Posted on 03-05-2014)