An initiative that empowers village women to assemble and distribute solar study lamps in rural areas, where access to electricity is poor and intermittent, has proved to be a boon to students and poor households

Solar study lamps have made kerosene lanterns a thing of the past (Photo by Mohd Imran Khan)

Even a few years ago, Neetu Devi, Sanju Devi and Anita Devi would have never imagined that they would earn a livelihood by assembling solar lamps that help children to study in villages in Bihar that have no access to electricity.

Living in remote rural areas of Gaya, Nawada and Bhojpur districts in the eastern province of Bihar, the lives of many such women have been transformed though the work of assembling and distributing solar lamps among children studying state-run schools in this underdeveloped part of India. This small piece of equipment powered by sunlight has found multiple uses in rural households that are now rid of the noxious fumes of kerosene lamps.

Neetu, Sanju and Anita are among the nearly 500 women of three districts who have been empowered through this promotion of renewable energy by earning a livelihood for themselves. They assemble the study lamps, distribute them and ensure their repair and maintenance.

Changed lives

“My life has changed. I am no longer dependent on my husband to buy small items for daily use because I have earned more than I expected by assembling and distributing solar study lamps,” Neetu, resident of Shahpur village under Pariya administrative block in Gaya district, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. A mother of four, Neetu has assembled some 2,900 solar study lamps, distributed more than 200 and is also engaged in repairing them. It has earned her a total of INR 50,000 (USD 730), a small fortune in these parts.

Neetu and Sanju earned more than expected and have invested their earnings in the education of their children. “I had sent my son to a college in Patna for higher education,” Neetu said. Sanju has enrolled her three children in a private school for better education.

Like them, Kranti Devi, a resident of Mocharim village under Bodh Gaya administrative block, earned INR 50,000. “My life is no longer what it was earlier,” she said. “I have tasted success for the first time in my life.”

“Each woman earns INR 480 daily by assembling 40 solar study lamps. Wage for assembling each solar lamp is INR 12 and for distribution INR 17,” Neetu told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “It proved to be a boon for us because our earnings are high. Our achche din (good days) have started.”

But, it was not easy for them to learn the technical skills required for manufacturing these lamps. A team from IIT Bombay trained them. More than two-dozen assembling and distribution centres are being set up in the rural areas of Bihar. It is an initiative of the state’s rural livelihoods mission called Jeevika.

“Neetu has assembled 3,724 solar study lamps. She is among the star assemblers at our centre in Gurua,” Vikas Kumar, field officer of Jeevika, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Women assembling solar lamps at a rural livelihoods centre (Photo by Mohd Imran Khan)

All these women belong to different self-help groups (SHGs) and are known as jeevika didis (livelihood sisters) since their SHGs were formed under the Bihar government’s rural livelihood programme. The initiative is part of a project to assemble and distribute 7 million solar lamps along with Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) funded by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in the five states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, where more than 50% of rural households have no access to electricity.

SoUL Project

It aims to provide 7 million rural students with high quality, affordable clean light in the form of these solar lamps. This scheme is part of an ambitious Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL) project, an initiative of IIT Bombay. MNRE has targeted to provide 7 million solar study lamps to students from 22,000 villages in 385 blocks spread across 49 districts.

Now dozens of the women including Neetu, Sanju, Kranti Devi and Seema Devi of Ajmatganj village, Mamta Devi of Majhiawan village and Kalavati Devi of Saraia village are set to turn entrepreneurs as they have been selected to open solar marts near their villages to sell various solar products. It is a part of next phase of the SoUL project to develop enterprise among rural women.

In a short span of 10 months, thousands of houses in poverty stricken hamlets of the downtrodden Musahar community in rural Gaya, Nawada and Bjojpur are no longer using kerosene oil to light up for the study of children or for household work, thanks to solar energy.

“So far 700,000 solar lamps have been distributed to school students, including 435,000 lakh in Gaya alone,” Gaurav Pandey, zonal manager of Jeevika in Gaya, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “The solar study lamps have reached thousands of homes of marginalised and disadvantaged people.”

Half a million more solar lamps would be distributed in the next few months in rural pockets in Nawada, Gaya and Aurangabad districts and a total of 1.8 million lamps will be distributed in Bihar under the SoUL project, he said.

“Solar lamps are assembled and distributed to school students at a subsidised rate of INR 100. Cheap solar lamps are a boon to school students of poor families of marginalised sections in hamlets and villages, where electricity is yet to reach,” said Deepak Kumar, a field officer of Jeevika. Deepak, who has been moving from one village to another in Bodh Gaya and Paraiya, said it is a good example of localisation of solar energy.

Off-grid initiative

Jeevika CEO Balamurugan D. said jeevika didis have successfully assembled and distributed thousands of solar study lamps. “SoUL is an off-grid initiative for rural areas where less than 50% households are electrified and a majority of families depend on kerosene as their main source of lighting,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “We have ensured access to high quality, affordable and environmentally sustainable lighting in the form of solar study lamps.”

According to MNRE, 221 million people are without any electricity in India and 81.2 million students use kerosene for lightning to study. As many as 43% of rural households in India are dependent on kerosene and 189 million students reside in rural areas. Kerosene lamps emit carbon dioxide fumes, resulting in indoor air pollution that affects the health of children and women the most.

Daropti Devi, secretary of the cluster-level federation of Jeevika in Paraiya, pointed out that solar study lamps have become useful for multipurpose work in rural households. Women are cooking food in its light, and some people are using it as a torch inside and outside the house. These lamps have replaced kerosene lanterns and the traditional dhibri lamps. “Some villagers are using the portable solar study lamps for outdoor activities like light to irrigate their farmland during dusk and dawn. It was difficult to do with kerosene lamps,” she said.

The lamps have boosted interest in solar energy in rural India. Demand for solar lights is high in villages where power supply is poor and intermittent. Many rural people are also fed up with high power bills and are showing interest to shift to solar energy, a positive sign for renewable energy in the near future.

Daropti, in her early 50s, is aware that solar energy reduces climate changing carbon emissions as use of kerosene has reduced to a large extent. “There are women who want to cook food on solar energy. Dependency on solar energy is bound to increase in the rural belt. Solar pumping sets are another item in high demand after solar fans,” she told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

 

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