• Let There be Sun Shine in Their Lives With Solar Lanterns!! | Chitra Narayanswamy

    17 Oct 2012

    Let There be Sun Shine in Their Lives With Solar Lanterns!! | Chitra Narayanswamy
    Hirappa has a green job! He helps in charging & renting out the lanterns. [PHOTO: UNDP INDIA]

    Maheswari and Chandrakala come towards us with beaming smiles. They belong to one of the 250 households housed in the Thubrahalli slum by Kundanahalli gate at Bangalore. The houses are shanties made of mud, bamboo and covered with plastic tarpaulin. Some of the households though are lit with modern energy, LED based solar lanterns.

    GMRVF, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) wing of the GMR infrastructure company runs a school in the slum premises housed in 2 permanent structures, while their third housing with sloping roofs operates as an Integrated Energy Center (IEC). The IEC is the first step taken by Selco Foundation to show the slum dwellers an alternate to kerosene for lighting. Solar panels (total capacity of 75 Watts) help to charge 60 such solar lanterns. The slum dwellers rent a lantern every evening for Rs 5/day, handing it to the center operator Hirappa in the mornings for charging.

    It is also a first step to show the residents their need for better lighting options - easing the burden on kerosene purchases, and eliminating the toxic fumes inhaled as it burns to light the gas lamps. Does the need arise in the shanty next door since it gives them a status to own a piece of technology? One wonders. Yet it has set the momentum where in over the period of 8 months since the center was set up, more households are asking for the lighting device, and good service for the Rs 5 they pay.

    While they may not elucidate their responses with the economic benefits, better technology or carbon credits from RETs, the women say they are happy to have a bright lit room and the relief from toxic fumes and fire hazards! Different models are explored by the Selco Foundation to sustain and make such centers viable. Running the center is Hirappa’s livelihood who earns his monthly income from the foundation. In other models as the Energy center in Dharmastala (a religious town in Karnataka) sustains on its earnings. The operator’s income and its maintenance are met from the monthly rental earnings.

    An initiative that is new to their life routines or is little understood otherwise takes the brunt be it a drunken brawl or a failing lantern due to a repair. Often times in such instances they break lanterns or damage its parts. These are lessons learnt on social behavior. The Thubrahalli slum would seem an insignificant one which serves the surrounding mutli storeys as domestic maids or construction workers. Will solar lanterns and efficient cookstoves be their need and have them believe that their lives can have less of such burdens? Only such original and bold experiments will tell us and the Foundation’s step would be in the right direction!

    Chitra Narayanswamy is Programme Associate, Environment and Energy Unit, UNDP India