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Bringing light to villages, the e-charkha way

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Novel yet traditional: Village women operating Ambar Charkhas at the Bassi Khadi cluster in Jaipur district.
Novel yet traditional: Village women operating Ambar Charkhas at the Bassi Khadi cluster in Jaipur district.

Sunny Sebastian

JAIPUR: In a few villages near here, Charkha, promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol of self-reliance and source of income for the rural population, has started doubling as a virtual micro-power plant in each poor household.

e-charkha — an improvised version of Ambar charkha, designed by Gandhian Ekambar Nath — does not resemble a typical charkha but can be operated by hand. A battery is attached to the e-charkha, which stores the electricity generated when it is being run. Two hours of operation is enough to light up the specially-designed LED light fitted to the e-charkha for eight hours.

Power crisis

Inhabitants of Jatwara village are fighting the dismal power situation with e-charkhas in addition to making a subsistence level income from spinning the yarn. Jatwara has 75 Ambar charkhas in operation. In Bassi, a tehsil of Jaipur, which has a long tradition of khadi, there are 350 of them working along a few thousands of traditional charkhas.

“There used to be, and still there are, many models of the charkha. Gandhiji made an offer in 1923 to pay Rs.1 lakh to anyone who developed a spinning wheel, which would enhance the productivity while maintaining its basic characteristics and simplicity. Ekambar Nath designed the Ambar charkha in 1954,” said Awadh Prasad, director of the Kumarappa Institute of Gram Swaraj, Jaipur.

Prem, a Dalit woman from Jatwara, earns Rs.30-45 daily from spinning an e-charkha, which she owns. On an average, she makes half a kg of yarn. Her income is not enough to sustain the family but it helps as a supplement. The spinning wheels have become the domain of the womenfolk in the villages while the men work in the fields, either as marginal farmers or farm labourers.

Shanti Devi, also from Jatwara, termed the extra fitting of a LED light and a modified transistor on her Ambar charka a blessing. “I start operating the charkha at home whenever the electricity goes off,” she said.

“The modified Ambar charkhas were introduced a few months ago as a pilot project by the Khadi Commission under the ‘SFURTI’ (Scheme of Funds for Regeneration of Traditional Industries) programme and they are proving very popular with the villagers,” said Laxmi Chand Bhandari, Secretary of the Khadi Gramodyog Sadhan Vikas Samiti, a 40-year old Sarvodaya organisation that looks after the Bassi cluster.

“There is great demand for khadi products and we could have provided more Ambar charkhas to the villagers but getting weavers is a problem these days,” Mr. Bhandari said.

Each modified charka costs Rs. 8,500 while the attachment, which enables to produce electricity, requires an investment of another Rs.1,500.

As per the concept of ‘SFURTI’, the e-charkhas have been provided on 75 p.c. grant with the remaining amount is to be paid by the beneficiary in easy installments.

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