While many villages in Maharashtra fight darkness, Manyachiwadi is shining bright with solar energy
In the last few months, Maharashtra is facing major electricity supply problems. The State-run Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) is staring at outstanding dues of a whopping ₹73,879 crore. It is struggling to recover electricity bills. There have been a series of agitations across the State by villages demanding that the government waive power bills or give concession.
“No. Like other villages we don’t want free electricity, waiver, or concession in bills. In fact, we don’t want power supply from the MSEDCL. We want to become self-reliant in power generation. We have passed the halfway mark and now want to achieve 100 per cent target,” says Sangeeta; other women join the conversation to support her.
Welcome to Manyachiwadi. A tiny hamlet in the remote parts of Satara district in Maharashtra has emerged as a ‘power full’ village in the State, thanks to the initiative taken by village women.
What sparked it off
“ For years the village reeled under darkness. I remember as a child that we hardly had power supply. The village merged in darkness during nights and there was hardly any electricity supply during the daytime,” recalls Geetanjali Patil. She adds that no girl wanted to marry a boy from this village because of its remoteness and lack of basic infrastructure like power supply, water and roads.
“We all came together and decided to do something about it. About ten years ago we started the movement to empower our village and empowerment is not possible without power supply. Village women led and gave momentum to change the picture,” says sarpanch Ravindra Mane.
A house in Manyachiwadi: Sarjerao Mane gives a demo of how solar systems for bulbs function
The Gram Sabha discussed what type of renewable energy could be used for power generation. They also sought help from experts and solar emerged as the only and best option. The village resolved to make Manyachiwadi a ‘Solar Gram’. It started with street lights and then village youth approached a professional company to install solar units in every household. The cost of each solar unit was ₹5,700.
It was a big amount for villagers who largely depend on farming. Ten women Self-Help Groups (SHG) took the initiative to contribute a major chunk of the amount. The contribution also came from gram panchayat and households. The amount required for solar units, which include two 20 watt bulbs, solar panels, batteries, and other mechanisms, was raised within a few days.
Solar changed their lives
Roads in the village with solar street lights
Villagers say the electricity bill for residents has gone down by about 70 per cent. The gram panchayat is saving money as street lights run on solar. Also, a village dairy and school use solar power.
“It’s about five years now and I am using solar bulbs in my house. We have forgotten load shedding,” says Sarjerao Mane, who gives a demo of how the system works. “If kids want to study we switch to the different mode and for regular use, we have less intensity mode. We have an MSEDCL connection which we use for refrigerators and mixer grinder usage. But soon we will start using solar power even for this purpose,” he says.
The residents have now resolved to make Manyachiwadi a 100 per cent solar village. “We are discussing with the government agency and other companies so that we don’t have to use MSEDCL power,” says Ravindra Mane. Three years back the village laid a pipeline 3 km away from the river for lift irrigation to water farmland. But this system doesn’t run on solar as of now. Villagers are putting their heads together to find a solution to this.
The villagers have initiated various other programmes like underground wastewater systems and bio fertiliser units. Along with winning the award as Maharashtra’s first solar village, Manyachiwadi has won dozens of State and national awards.
“Our children can study whenever they want as we have no power shortage. Also, our lifestyle has improved and that change is possible if we want it to happen,” says Lata Asawkar, adding that there are regular visitors to the village. The gram panchayat is educating villagers about regular maintenance and repair of batteries.
Probably this is the only village in the region that is strongly against any scheme to waive power bills.
Solar potential can make it possible
According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, solar energy potential is the highest in the country among the various renewable energy resources. “In most parts of India, clear sunny weather is experienced 250 to 300 days a year. The annual radiation varies from 1600 to 2200 kWh/m2, which is comparable with radiation received in the tropical and sub-tropical regions. The equivalent energy potential is about 6,000 million GWh of energy per year,” the Ministry states.
Roads in the village with solar street lights
The National Action Plan on Climate Change adds, “India is a tropical country, where sunshine is available for longer hours per day and in great intensity. Solar energy, therefore, has great potential as a future energy source. It also has the advantage of permitting the decentralised distribution of energy, thereby empowering people at the grass-roots level”.
“Manyachiwadi village has shown the way how grass roots people can empower themselves and improve living conditions. We have done this in a small village with a population of about 400. But big even villages and cities can do this, starting at ward level” says Ravindra Mane.
Ask about the key to the success of the solar project and the villagers say — unity of villagers, powerful gram sabhas where every villager has the freedom to participate in discussions and planning of programmes, keeping away political parties and politics in development programmes and including, most importantly, women leadership.
While other villages fight with darkness, Manyachiwadi is shining bright.
(This story was produced with the support of the Earth Journalism Network)