Cradled in the forests of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra are villages totally cut-off from electricity and infested with Maoists. The dense forest cover, coupled with lack of electricity and connectivity, provide a convenient hiding place for the Maoists.
Now, 10,000 such villages, most with 150-200 households, would have access to piped drinking water even without electricity, thanks to motorised water pumps.
The government plans to harness solar energy in these villages to install systems which can pump water to overhead tanks, from where it can be relayed through pipes into the houses of the villagers, mostly tribals.
This proposal by the rural development ministry would revolutionise at least one aspect of the lives of these villagers, who have forever lived in the shadows of nature, cut-off from all signs of development outside it.
The idea was first implemented successfully in Gadchiroli and some other districts of Maharashtra, where the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency of the state government had installed over 200 such pumps to provide piped water supply.
The strategy was to provide these pumps to villages without power. While the equipment works as a hand pump in the absence of sunlight, it draws water from the earth and pushes it into the tank when there is sunlight. According to ministry officials, the system was found appropriate as any failure to get sunlight during the monsoon would not prevent people from drawing water from a hand pump. The system, which, according to the ministry, costs around Rs 5 lakh, includes a dual pump, pipes, an electric motor and a 5,000-litre water storage tank.
Harish Hande, the man who has been spreading the use of solar power at the household-level in different states with the participation of people, says he had tried using such pumps for irrigation but had to abandon the idea as they consumed too much of water, which was not necessarily available. He said success was strictly dependent on the level of water table and the suppliers needed to ensure good service.
The ministry has sought Rs 230 crore from the finance ministry’s Green Energy Fund for the proposed project, which is estimated to cost Rs 540 crore.
There are 58,000 villages in 70 Naxal-affected districts which don’t have electricity. If the project manages to achieve its target in 18 months, these villages would be next in line for the pumps, ministry officials say.
The ministry, which, for the first time, is looking at harnessing solar energy for rural development, has nothing to do with the rural electrification programme named after the late Rajiv Gandhi. The fact that thousands of villages don’t have electricity despite there being a rural energy programme in place speaks volumes about the success of the scheme.
Just as water is being provided through solar energy, it is possible that some electricity could also be provided.
The ministry, which has suddenly realised the immense potential of solar power to fill the glaring gaps in the drinking-water scenario, is planning a tie-up with the Ministry of Renewable Energy. Taking drinking water to forest villages is just a part of the government’s attempt to make up for neglecting these areas for decades.
The district collector of a Naxal-affected state recently pointed out that the surest way to smoke-out the Maoists was to bring railway links to places like Bastar. That would open the doors for the villagers to the big world, away from the oppressive elements infiltrating their hamlets in the garb of protectors and rotating booty in an eternal pact with the other prevailing exploitative elements.