28 July 2014

Woman in Dharnai Village in India © Vivek M / Greenpeace


It is inspiring when you see happiness touching every aspect of life in front of you. One tends to feel accomplished to be a part of the carnival of human emotions. Something similar happened when I travelled to Dharnai last week to participate in the launch of Greenpeace's solar micro-grid project in the nondescript village in rural Bihar.

I was excited from the beginning when I was asked to be a part of the entourage to Dharnai. I had been hearing about the decentralised renewable energy project ever since I started volunteering for Greenpeace, back in 2010. Finally, the opportunity came to witness the energy revolution that was all set to start from a small village and spread across the length and breadth of India. So, I jumped at the idea of going to Bihar.

What I saw over the course of the next two days has made an indelible mark on my memory. Dharnai is a village that had no access to basic amenities like electricity for the last 30 years. While successive governments in Bihar gave two hoots to the pleas of the villagers living in darkness, the MLAs came and went begging for votes only to turn a deaf ear towards Dharnai. It is insane that 67 years after Independence, a village so close to the state capital Patna and the world pilgrimage city Gaya was left in complete darkness. Until, Dharnai broke free of the cliché and declared itself energy-independent by switching on the sun!

After 30 years of darkness, the lights are on in Dharnai! Today, this village is the talk of the state. It is the first village in India where all aspects of life are powered by solar power. Built within three months and on a test-run since March, the 100 kilowatt micro-grid launched by Greenpeace India with the help of BASIX and CEED is powering 60 street lights and serving the energy requirements of 450 homes which have 2,400 residents, 50 commercial establishments, two schools, a training centre and a healthcare facility. A battery backup ensures power around the clock.

I saw, I heard and I was inspired in Dharnai. As I walked through the muddy lanes deep into the village, I saw more happy faces with stories waiting to be shared. There were faces of optimism, of renewed hopes, and of empowerment.

I met amazing people, like Suresh Manjhi, who, until three months back, travelled five kilometers to and from the nearest Makhdumpur town to charge his mobile phone for a price. His world would be engulfed in darkness once the sun went down. On days when he got lucky, he could afford a small kerosene-fuelled lamp. It was burning a hole in his pocket. Today, he can light up his home, charge his phone and have a bright street light glowing outside in the street. I met Ranti Devi who sounded confident when she said, "We had a lot of problems in the past, but since the lights have been installed in our homes, it has become easier for us to cook and for our children to study. We can walk around in the streets at night without any fear".

Hearing these true stories and sharing the dreams and aspirations of the villagers has made me realise how easy and undeserving life in the metros are for us, where we take things for granted!

Dharnai is a unique example of a community-driven electricity project. For the first time in India, an entire village has been electrified through 100 per cent renewable means along with the involvement of the village community.

There is a story here that goes well beyond India. For 30 long years Dharnai was subjected to state apathy. But, today it is self reliant in its own way. The people of Dharnai don't have to depend on the conventional grid to empower their lives anymore. In a power-deficit country like India, where thousands of villages are still living in darkness, where the state is unable to provide uninterrupted electricity even to the metros, Dharnai has set a benchmark on how decentralised renewable energy is a panacea and not a Utopia.

When, in the name of development and in the name of generating power, ancient forests are being cleared, communities displaced, wildlife rendered homeless, Dharnai provides a roadmap for sustainable development. Dharnai has shattered all the myths relating to the unfeasibility of renewable energy that cynics have been shouting about. Dharnai is LIVE now! Dharnai's solar-powered micro-grid can be a game-changer, a model for bringing clean, reliable energy to millions of energy-starved people across the world.

Know more at: http://dharnailive.org

Avik Roy is a volunteer with Greenpeace India.