The story of the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY) survey encompassing 6 villages in Madhubani, is similar to that of other villages, with some variations here and there. No one had a clue about the RGGVY scheme. No one knew it is free for families below poverty line (BPL). No one knew where to go and complain. Families above poverty line (APL) have not been encouraged to take a connection and even if they want to, they don’t know how to.

Badly laid lines electrocuted a small girl in Raghepur (Bisfi Block), yet no one has been blamed or punished. The Mukhiyas of the villages have been bypassed and have no clue as to how the scheme is being implemented. People hope for 6-14 hours of electricity and complain that they never have electricity when they need it in the most - between 6-12 pm. No Panchayat bhavans, schools or primary health centres have been electrified and most micro-enterprises depend on diesel generators for electricity.

Solar energyAll this made me think that when Greenpeace talks about decentralised renewable energy getting connected to the grid and providing electricity to rural areas, is it being unrealistic? I grappled with this question until an acquaintance told me about Shyam Sah.

Shyam Sah runs a cable operating business and provides electricity to 30 families through solar energy in Madhubani. I visited his workshop, littered with batteries, wires, and inverters. The solar panels were glistening in the sun on the roof his workshop and a lone generator stood in a corner. A reticent Shyam explains shyly, “The generator is used when solar power is not enough.”

Shyam got to know about solar energy while pursuing his diploma in electrical engineering. A self-taught electrician in many ways, he went as far as Delhi and Bangalore to source the best yet the cheapest panels. He assembles his own batteries and does his own wiring. Turned down by many banks, he was eventually given a measly loan by one of them. The rest he borrowed from friends.

He showed his solar panels proudly and said that his cable business and house get electricity for almost 20 hours! When I asked him why he chose solar when diesel was much easier, he explained, “Solar is renewable, non-polluting and not noisy! If it gets more support from the government, I am sure many people will prefer it to diesel.”

Our journey through Madhubani was full of shocking and sad revelations. At some point or the other it had made all of us feel a little depressed. But after meeting Shyam, and seeing his optimism and enthusiasm, all the questions and doubts, in my head at least, were cleared. We now moved on to the next village with a hope to find more examples like Shyam.


Image: © Harikrishna Katragadda / Greenpeace