Electrifying the villages of Gumla | Milaap

Electrifying the villages of Gumla

The town of Gumla is a mere 2 hours ride from Ranchi, nestled on the Chotanagpur plateau and traversed by Koel and Sankh rivers. While overcrowded autos are in sight everywhere, so are cycle rickshaws and totos, on a rainy day, there might be none in sight. The town has 3 restaurants, and these 3 joints suffice for the entire population of Gumla.
Gumla and it's rolling paddy fieldsGumla has a huge population of tribals- Oraon, Kullu. Hariya is a locally brewed rice beer prepared in homes, sold in the market, consumed by everyone from children to the aged and even given to deities. Hariya the intoxicating drink, makes the tribals blessed with simple demands. They don't stay up till late, nor do they have demands of TVs. On a typical day, after toiling in the fields, or coming back from a foraging expedition, they have their supper, consume hariya and go to sleep.
The tribals engaged in agriculture store their grains and sell these stored grains throughout the year. They carry bags of grains and sell them in the weekly haat (local market), and with the money buy food from the haat. The haats of Gumla start from 12 in the noon and ends at 4-5 in the afternoon. There's hardly a soul to be seen on the streets after evening falls.

A channel of Koel waters the hinterlands of Gumla

While traversing Gumla's scenic hinterlands with rolling green paddy fields, hillocks in the horizon, brightly coloured kaccha houses with the asbestos roof, is a pleasure during the day, one can only imagine the eeriness of the place after sunset, without having a single street light in sight and the ever-present fear of the Naxals.
While many villages are off-grid in Gumla, the ones on-grid have erratic electricity and fluctuating voltage. The town of Gumla is no different, violently fluctuating voltage, frequent power cuts seem to be the norm.
78 tribal households have made the quiet little village of Narotoli their home. Narotoli is an off-grid village. In July 2016, Mlinda Foundation brought electricity to this small village with their solar powered panels of 22.5 kilowatts. Presently all 78 households of the village have been electrified. The villagers engage in paddy cultivation during the kharif season, and at other times engage in either poultry farming, foraging for kasanj, Mahua, gala, or other herbal plants.
     There are 58 such poultry farms in Narotoli

Prior to having electricity, the poultry farmers of Narotoli used kerosene lamps for providing warmth to chicks, which caused high mortality of the chicks as the kerosene lamps provide a very concentrated source of lighting, which make the chicks crowd into one space. After the arrival of electricity to this small village, people have been able to use bulbs instead of kerosene lamps which have reduced the mortality rates of the chicks. Demands for people of Narotoli are simple- electricity for lights and charging sockets. Only 6-7 households have TVs in their homes, the majority of them don't even have fans. The electricity costs the people around Rs 100 per month. People with appliances like TV cost them around Rs 300-400. Electricity for poultry farms costs around Rs 150-200. There are 2 pumps in this village, people are charged Rs 150 for 1 hour of usage of the pump. The pump is used to obtain water from a water body like a pond, river for agricultural purpose. The cost-effectiveness of solar energy to such people whose monthly income ranges from Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 has been the cause of its acceptance.

Kasia is a non-tribal village of about 250 households, where many people are engaged in business in the town of Gumla or are service holders along with engaging in agriculture. People of Kasia being on a higher socio-economic scale, have fans, TVs, fridges, mixer-grinders in their homes. The solar grid installed by Mlinda is of 32 kilowatts. 178 households now have a steady source of electricity throughout the day.

               Cold Storage of Kulabira

165 households have been electrified with the solar panels as of yet in the village of Kulabira. 200 families reside in this village of Kulabira. Kulabira has 40% tribal population. It houses the largest solar plant of all villages in Gumla, with the capacity of 37.5 kilowatts. Since February 2017, solar grids have been installed in this village. Paddy, groundnut, and urad are grown in abundance by the tribals residing in this village. Mlinda has also set up a cold storage in this village.

           The solar plant in Narotoli

After implementing the hamlet model of installing solar grids in Ayodha hills and Sunderbans, Mlinda has implemented the village model in Gumla. The cost of setting up a solar grid in a village is approximately Rs 50-80 lakhs, depending on the materials used. The maintenance of the solar grids is borne by Mlinda. Mlinda leases lands for setting up of the plants in different villages. When Mlinda first started out with setting up of solar grids in the first 4 villages of Gumla, they held community meetings and gave live demos to the people, showing them the cost and time effectiveness of using solar power instead of diesel for running of pumps, and other machines such as rice hull etc. After successfully installing solar grids in 8 villages out of the 50 target villages of Gumla, villagers now come forward to Mlinda with their request for electrifying their villages. After Mlinda receives application from a village requesting a solar grid, they survey the village, gauge the demand, get the approval of the residents, give them exposure to the other villages electrified by them, by taking them to those villages and letting them talk to the community that has already been benefited by the project. The residents first need to pay Rs 1,700 per meter for availing the solar power, which they can either pay up-front or in installments of Rs 700, 500 and 500. Installing a solar plant takes about a month.
The system of payment for the solar power is prepaid, people recharge their meter with a certain amount of money and they receive power accordingly. The plants are owned by Mlinda till the time period the project lasts. After which the plants become community owned, and the locals hired for the projects after learning during the entire tenure of the project become responsible for the maintenance.
                              Rice hull

                            Oil Extractor

All the plants of Mlinda have a rice hull, flour mill, and oil extractor; along with these, there are also pumps installed in different locations which aid in agriculture. Instead of going to the nearest town of Gumla for availing the services of these machines, villagers can now do it in their own village. People of nearby villages also come to such villages for availing the services. These often serve to encourage people to grow particular types of crops such as mustard, kasanj. An oil extractor incentivizes people to grow mustard, kasanj in their fields.

While Gumla slowly inches towards modernity, it might yet remain haunted by Naxalism for years to come, but projects such as these give hope to people that they just don't need to be at the mercy of the nature or the government for that matter. As informed by my host from Mlinda, the grip of Naxalism is gradually decreasing in the area, but it might be many more years before the region regains its tranquility.