Street vendors of Sewa Nagar are using custom-designed solar lights, courtesy a radical project by two young women

Naseeruddin Siddiqui is all eyes and ears as he strolls down Prabhu Market in Sewa Nagar accompanied by Shri Ram, President of Footpath Vikreta Ekta Manch. The pride is apparent on Shri Ram’s face as he shares with his counterpart in Shahdara the experiences of the vendors with respect to the solar lights that they now use. Prabhu Market, near Lodi Colony, essentially a market of fruit sellers, is in the throes of change. In a radical move, the market comprising 50 street vendors has become perhaps the first market in Delhi to be using solar lights. They are custom designed and owned by the vendors. Siddiqui wants to replicate it in the Shahdara market, which is grappling with the issues of power.

Siddiqui and Shri Ram have nobody to thank but two young souls — Praniti Maini and Palak Aggarwal, whose brainchild the whole effort is. As students of TERI university pursuing masters in sustainable development practice, the two were roaming around in the Vasant Vihar market for one of their projects and a sudden power breakdown led to a complete black out in the area. “We joked that if the market had solar lights, it wouldn’t have happened. But it remained in our minds and we started looking for solar lights,” recalls Praniti wondering how something that started in sheer jest transformed into an ambitious project called ‘vendors of change’ which seeks to promote clean energy in urban areas. They intend to replace conventional light sources used by vendors/hawkers/mobile markets with custom designed solar lights. “In most of the markets, we discovered the vendors were either using illegally sourced electricity or depend on LPG cylinders, and some even on kerosene lamps and now kerosene has been banned. A recent phenomenon has been that of using electric lights taken on a daily rental basis. Every market has a local light provider who charges Rs.15-30 per evening for a 11-15 watt tube/bulb, up to Rs.100 for larger bulbs. They are local entrepreneurs. So, we began with Vasant Kunj Monday market trying to convince the vendors there and we were followed by the local goons. Their business would have been disrupted if we had managed to convince the vendors.” However, they did manage to give out some lights in the market. Praniti and Palak bagged a fellowship from NGO Swechcha post which they set out to look for markets.

“The biggest challenge was to convince the vendors because they wouldn’t believe that light can be generated using solar energy. They would think we are taking them for a ride,” relates Palak. Finally, the vendors of Prabhu Market agreed to use it, thanks to the intervention of their President, Shri Ram. “Developing a product which suits their needs was another tough task. It had to be safe and portable because a lot of vendors shift markets.”

Apprehensions have given way to relief and confidence. Thirty four vendors — fruit sellers, kiosks and even a haircutting salon — are happy to have found a solution to their problems. “Earlier there was no system in place. We used to steal electricity or be dependent on other sources like LPG which were expensive. It’s nice to have something of your own. I charge it in the morning and it easily lasts for about five hours and more,” says Shyamsunder Jha, one of the vendors.