And then there was (solar) light | delhi | Hindustan Times
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And then there was (solar) light

After generations of darkness, 15 million Indians are living with light — from solar lanterns. They’re also helping save the planet. From India’s remote villages, a message to the world. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Jun 05, 2009 00:24 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Vishnu Dayal Galeria doesn’t know a solar lamp used for an hour means one kilo less carbon dioxide in the air.

But a fortnight ago, when his family bought a couple of solar lanterns, they unknowingly contributed to the global green effort.

The Galerias, of Jharia village in south-eastern Madhya Pradesh, have worshipped the sun for generations — now, it has blessed them with stored light for the nights, and made power cuts redundant.

Far from urban India, climate research and its attendant cast of characters, Galeria (45) is one of millions of Indians who have suddenly found a clean, affordable escape from generations of darkness.

More than 15 million (1.5 crore) families are helping India combat climate change.

“When the lanterns first came, the villagers asked ‘What is this?’,” said Hanuman Singh, a local solar engineer. “Now they say it’s changed their lives.”

S. Srinivas, energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said half of India’s villages can be transformed “only if renewable energy is decentralised”. That means offering it at an affordable price.

Galeria, echoing sentiment across the country, found Rs 3,000 too expensive for a solar lantern.

“Renewable energy will not be an alternative but the main source of energy,” new Union Minister for Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah said.

Among the world’s five biggest storehouses of coal, India depends on thermal power — a major source of carbon emissions — to generate 70 per cent of its energy. During climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, international pressure mounted on India to reduce its emissions.

“There hasn’t been a consensus on the draft agreement on climate change to be ratified in December in Copenhegan,” said Samuel Haq, of the International Institute for Climate Change, a London-based think tank.

While global powers dither on measures to combat climate change, small voices are showing the way — from around the world and at home.

Traffic lights in South Africa and Australia run on solar energy. Norway will use wind energy for offshore oil exploration.

India will have a railway coach factory in Tamil Nadu that runs on wind power. Farmers in Kerala are earning carbon credits by using manure-based gas for cooking, instead of forest wood. Villagers in Orissa are planting trees on barren land.
Himachal has provided low energy consuming CFLs for free.

“A small environment revolution is underway,” said Pradipto Ghosh, head of the climate change task force at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Still, we have miles to go.

Air in Delhi and Mumbai turned cleaner after the use of CNG for public transport but with high levels of respirable suspended particular matter — a cause for breathing ailments — it is still far from being the cleanest in the world.

“The depletion of forests has caused substantial loss of wildlife and glaciers,” said Syed Hasnain, who was awarded the Padma Shri for glaciology in 2008.

The World Wildlife Fund has named the Ganga and Indus among the 10 fastest shrinking rivers in the world. The Yamuna in Delhi is counted as one of the world’s most polluted.