Here is a classic example of how an ambitious project of the Centre or State government, that has huge potential of being successful, can fail due to poor implementation.
H. Kodihalli in Mandya district, a tiny hamlet that hit national headlines in 2003-04 when it became Karnataka’s first ‘Complete Solar Village’, is yet again at the mercy of the Chamundeshwari Electricity Supply Company for its lighting needs.
The Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. (KREDL) had installed lights in all 211 houses and 15 streetlights free of cost in 2003-04. But most of them have remained defunct for long.
Whilst the KREDL officials cite ‘lack of proper maintenance and delay in replacement of worn-out batteries’ as the reason, villagers have requested the authorities concerned to replace the damaged equipment.
When the KREDL converted the lighting needs of H. Kodihalli to solar power, this tiny hamlet drew national attention.
Scores of activists from various States, volunteers from associations, media representatives and foreign nationals have visited the village on a number of occasions to have a glimpse of the ‘success’ of the ambitious project.
The then population of the village was around 600. As most of the villagers were enthusiasts of various Centre and State government-sponsored projects, the KREDL selected this hamlet to install solar lightings under the ‘Solar Photo Voltaic’ (SPV) programme (Free Lighting Scheme), with financial aid from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
KREDL, later, implemented the project at a huge expenditure at the village. However, majority of the solar lights and streetlights in the village, which falls under the Gopalapura Grama Panchayat limits, have become defunct due to worn-out batteries and malfunctioning of other components.
Conversely, the beneficiaries at the village have been showing a lack of concern about the solar systems. Majority of the beneficiaries have not bothered to repair the lighting systems.
The KREDL had electrified the village under the free lighting scheme. It had sent experts to install solar panels, solar light charges, cable systems and batteries. A private company had supplied and installed the systems, a KREDL officer said.
The agencies provided two power points and two 18-watt bulbs to each house. The personnel concerned of KREDL had continuously monitored the conditions of the solar systems for five years as per the scheme. Later, the villagers were instructed to maintain the systems on their own.
A case of neglect
But the beneficiaries completely neglected the maintenance from 2008-09. Thus, most of the streetlights and lightings in houses have become defunct due to worn-out batteries, the KREDL officer said.
The villagers have stopped filling batteries with distilled water. They have neither replaced the damaged equipment nor had the systems serviced by experts. Instead, they started taking power connection from the electricity supply company, he said.
On the other hand, the villagers have their own story to tell. Most of them say the capacity of the battery failed to meet the power needs of their houses. A house needs at least eight bulbs and six power sockets.
The power generated from the free scheme system does not fulfil the needs of the houses. Hence, most of the residents stopped servicing the solar lighting system, Savitha, a villager, said.
“The battery costs around Rs. 2,500. Also, it generates less power, so we cannot run television, fans, refrigerator and other gadgets. The power bill comes to around Rs. 250 per month even after using all these equipment. So, instead of spending Rs. 2,500 on batteries and some more amount for service, we decided to use electricity,” she said.
The life span of batteries and bulbs has ended. Hence, most of the lights remained defunct for a long period, K.C. Somashekar, an activist, told The Hindu .
In working condition
The villagers are urging the authorities concerned to make arrangements for replacing the defunct equipment. Most of the solar panels and cables are still under working condition. The systems just need batteries and bulbs.
Officials at the KREDL say the solar photovoltaic modules and poles of all the existing solar streetlights at H. Kodihalli are intact.
According to the KREDL, it cannot spend a huge sum on restoring the system. But, it can educate the villagers about the maintenance of the system. The villagers should take responsibility to replace the worn-out batteries, it feels.
M.T. Shiva Kumar
H. Kodihalli, the State’s first solar village, cries for attention