Vanvasi is a tribal hamlet located just 100 km north of Mumbai. It falls under the Khadaki village in Palaghar district in Maharashtra. It does not fall into the government’s definition of a village. Despite the Indian government’s ambitious 100% electrification plans through a national power grid, electricity seldom reaches these small hamlets. The cost of taking the grid to these small hamlets is high, and providing high-quality, clean, and affordable energy to such remote hamlets has been largely unaddressed. It is estimated that there are at least 20,000 remote villages in India where there is no electricity or any semblance of development. Or take the example of Darewadi, a tribal village of 35 households and 200 tribals belonging to the Maha Kali community, in Pune district of Maharashtra. It is only three hours from the city but is not listed in the census roster. This means there is little chance of getting connected to the electricity grid. It is located in the beautiful valley of the Sahyadri hills, where people live on single-crop farming and pick wild herbs for the Ayurveda industry. The villagers spend Rs. 50 per month per family and hire a diesel generator for a few thousand rupees for community events.
Gram Oorja, a social enterprise, was set up in 2008 by Samir Nair and Anshuman Lath, to provide electricity to such vulnerable communities through renewable energy models. It helped set up solar micro-power grids entirely owned and operated by local communities, with each household being charged. Today, Vanvasi is powered by a 9kW peak solar micro-grid, a 36kWh battery bank, overhead transmission lines, and electrical fittings in every household. Rural women walk five to twenty kilometres every day to fetch water. A solar-powered water pump has been installed in the hamlet that supplies water, thus saving time and effort. And yes, electricity is not free. A family pays around Rs. 100 every month towards electricity bills and Rs. 150–200 per month if they have a television at home.
Samir Nair, the co-founder, says, “We step in only after the villagers show commitment by contributing the initial seed money (around Rs. 2000 per household), create a bank account, create a village electrification committee, and obtain a NOC from the local panchayat.”
These solutions have transformed the lives of 80,000 Individuals through 280 projects in 19 districts. The vision of Gram Oorja is to “achieve social good under a commercial framework, delivered with highest levels of ethics, integrity, and professionalism.” It has expanded its offerings to cooking fuel and water needs. It was not hard for Gram Oorja to discover what the tribals wanted. Education, water, livelihood, and healthcare issues were all related to the need for a stable, affordable, and reliable power supply. The off-grid renewable solutions have made these hamlets self-reliant. Gram Oorja has transformed their lives in multiple ways. The tribals were able to see the impact of the solutions on their small communities, women, children, and families.
Another interesting venture that has been impacting the lives of millions of people in small towns and villages in India is Taraltec.
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