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A tribal population learns how to stand on its own leg without government help

Santosh H K Narayan| Ranchi 15 Oct 2010, Vol 1 Issue 7

Not too far from Jamshedpur is Dalbhanga, a village populated by tribal people, which never saw an electric bulb, leave alone electric power lines. They had been making pleas with the authorities and their hopes lighted up when electric poles were installed in the village. But then, the Mundas living at the far end of the village, which falls under the Kuchi block of Saraikela district, remained unconnected.

“We only saw light bulbs when we visited the nearby town. All our activities had to end just after dusk. Children could not study in the night as we have a shortage of kerosene,” says Ramta Munda, echoing the feelings of fellow villagers.

But instead of taking up violent forms of protests, the villagers in about 130 houses came together to set up their own thermal power plant, which was inaugurated a fortnight ago. The plant, set up with a NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) grant of Rs 2.83 lakh, generates 10 kilowatt of power daily, illuminating every house for five hours in the night.
 

The thermal power plant built by the villagers provides electricity to 130 houses for five hours daily 

It all started in late 2009 when an organisation called Naree Samvedna, associated with the Bharat Bacahao Andolan, selected the village under its Rural Innovation Programme. But the most innovative thing behind the whole idea was to generate power from locally available biomass and also coal that is present just beneath the surface. Thus the fuel reduces the input cost to almost zero.

“We are opposed to the concept of big power plant projects that lead to mass displacement and incomparable loss to the nature. The benefits of such development reach only a few and it neglects many others. Here there was no displacement and electricity is being produced in a sustainable and affordable manner,” says Mithilesh Dangi of Azadi Bahacho Aandolan (ABA), the organisation that provided technical know-how to the villagers.

However the poor and deprived villagers played a very crucial role in making the dream a reality as the project required land for setting up the plant and the consent of each and every resident to execute it. Above all there was a pre-condition that that the villagers would own the plant to ensure its safety and trouble-free operation.

The villagers were persuaded to bear 10 per cent of the total cost of Rs 3.30 lakh to give them the feeling of ownership of the plant. Now every household gets five hours of electricity daily for lighting two CFL bulbs. The plant also supplies power to an oil mill, - earlier, villages travelled miles for getting oil extracted from oilseeds and Mahua seeds - a rice huller, and water pump for irrigation purposes.

Locals operate the power plant themselves, having being trained in it. “The plant is proving a boon for us. Had it not been there we would not have been able to see electric power ever,” says Kurma Munda, the sarpanch of the village.

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