54 years old and has never lit a bulb at home, till recently! That is the story of Kunwar Singh Dhurve, an elderly villager of Bajgundi, a forest village in the Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh.
Panda Maharaj ji, as he is fondly known as, can recount his tale of relocating from the forest of Kanha to this village about 35 years ago. His father was an active village council member, and he has been following the same legacy. He is also the local priest of the village. One cannot miss his primly demure and forthcoming approach to every initiative of the village.
All these years and there had never been a trace of electricity in this village. Access to energy had been one of the key challenges and Panda Maharaj can well narrate the drudgery of his village folks prior to solar electrification of his village. He has seen people live through without a gleam of electricity. All the chores had to be carried out in daylight; and for the remainder of the day, the village was highly dependent on kerosene lights, which in turn had made the villagers susceptible to various health hazards. Women used to spend hours in collecting fuel wood and had difficulty cooking in the evenings. Even though the telecom services had reached the village, people were unable to make use of it because of absence of power to charge their mobile phones, for which they had to travel long distances to charge their devices. Children, particularly, were forced to compromise on their education due to poor lighting. Owing to the village’s proximity to Kanha Tiger Reserve, the villagers were perpetually in conflict with the wildlife.
“But now things are different”, he says with a tinge of contentment in his eyes. He is happy that the solar plant intervention has made the life for his village much easier. Women can now spend quality time doing other productive work such as sewing, knitting and other such activities. They can cook irrespective of the time of the day. With the solar street lights, villagers can now have unrestricted movement even during the evenings. And now that the plant lights up not just the houses, but also the school, the community hall and anganwadi (a ‘courtyard shelter’, anganwadi is a government sponsored child-care and mother-care center in India), the villagers can hold cultural activities and other festivities even during the evenings. Most importantly, the life of children has outstandingly improved. Children can now study and play for longer hours. “They have a happier childhood now”, he remarks.
A village elderly and one among the most respected in the village, Panda Maharaj is also the Solar Plant Operator of the village, a responsibility that he gleefully delivers to the T. He manages the village youth in handling the routine operations of the plant, day-to-day maintenance and preliminary trouble shooting in case of any technical snag.
With grid power also making its way into the village, questions may have been raised about the longevity of the off-grid source. But Panda Maharaj does not see the advent of grid electricity as a setback for the solar plant. He calls the plant “our own’’ and believes that electricity from solar is much more reliable and cleaner. Moreover, it supplements the grid power, thus ensuring all day long power supply.
Micro Solar PV Power Station installed in the village has been a significant life-changer for him. This plant instills in him a ray of hope that his fellow community members can have access to better opportunities, which can further pave the way for progress and development of the village.