The idea was to somehow provide electricity to every household with at least six hours of power supply that became daunting when it reached to hilly, difficult and inaccessible terrains of Jharkhand, dotted with proscribed outfits.
At the same it also presented an opportunity for the authorities to grab and show their mettle. And, the Jharkhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (JREDA) accomplished the job of electrifying every single village of Jharkhand and thus making the State without any powerless village.
As many as 250 such hamlets scattered at forested and hilly areas of Chatra, Latehar, West Singhbhum, Sahibganj, Pakur district were so far on the fringe for the want of proper location and hostile situation required for traditional grid connected power supply. However, the status quo was beyond the acceptance.
“Under the instructions of the Government of India in the field of power supply, every household has to be provided with electricity for at least six hours daily. When it became clear that traditional way of connectivity is not possible in those about 250 villages located not only very remotely and are inaccessible but also marred with naxal activities, the job came to us,” said Niranjan Kumar, Director of JREDA.
The agency had six months at hand to complete the task, which became even difficult when a company allocated the work left midway citing the difficulties which were quite evident.
“We called up a meeting of all the stakeholders involved into the task and reframed our strategy. Locals under the influence of naxals were apprehensive about the project. They said that their privacy would be infringed or lighting may bring up their activities before the government agencies. We assured them that nothing of that sort would happen,” said a JREDA official.
To deal with the lack of ground support coming, the villages were given choice about power supply hours. “We conducted survey where villagers gave their choice like supply during 6-10 in evening or 5-6 in morning and couple of hours in day. This enhanced their confidence on us and they accepted the solar lighting project. However we also came across the areas which fall into the corridors of naxal and lighting such places could have attracted stiff resistance from the extremists, but we somehow managed,” said Project Director Arvind Kumar.
This ‘forced’ JREDA to make some adjustments and accommodate demands like no power supply between a certain period of time, truncated movement of officials and not allowing roads to be built.
“Some of the equipments used in solar power are too heavy. The agencies working had to mobilise workforce to carry those off their shoulders or in the form of buggy for kilometers. At some places they managed to build roads at their own cost. Since most of the places have very thin populace with just 15-20 households, placing appropriate kind of system was also a big challenge,” said Kumar.
JREDA went for standalone solar panel systems providing 200 watt of power for a home and also for micro grid of 8-10 kw for slightly bigger hamlets. Now done with installations of the power source at all such villages, JREDA’s task is far from being over.
“We are now working to connect every household with the off-grid power which is the final leg of the task given. At the same, operating the installed system is again a big challenge in such a difficult condition. The companies are mandated to manage the system for five years. They have roped in locals as ‘surya mitras’ and created manpower for four-five adjoining hamlets. Involvement of locals is a strategic move made in that direction,” adds Niranjan Kumar.
Notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges, isolated inhabitants of the handful villages are now able to enjoy even television and other smaller capacity equipment which would bring them closer to the outside world and also to the other side of the tunnel where there is some light.