As darkness fell in Dayapur village, on the opposite bank of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, solar streetlights on the embankments along the river's edge drew the thin line between human habitat and tiger territory.
Solar lamps draw the line between human babitat and tiger territory in the Sunderbans. A man stands below one such lamp on the banks of river Gomor. Subhendu Gosh/HT photo
"While people live one side of the river, tigers rule the other bank in Sunderbans. But when darkness falls, these lamps are our only security from straying tigers," said Dayapur resident Bhagyadhar Mondol.
In 1992, the West Bengal renewable energy development agency installed the first solar home lighting systems in Sagar Island of the Sunderbans. There has been no looking back.
"The state's first off-grid solar power station of 500 kilowatt was established in the Sunderbans in 1993. Now, more than a million solar lamps light up this mangrove delta. Sunderbans holds the record of maximum number of solar panels in the country," said SP Gon Ghoudhury, former director of the state renewable energy development agency.
Of the 102 islands on the Indian side of the Sunderbans, humans live on around 54. Solar lamps light up nearly 75% of these human-occupied islands, as electricity has not reached many of these remote villages. "Instances of tigers straying into human habitat and snakebites have declined since the 90s and the credit must go to solar lighting," said Md Karim, another Dayapur resident.
There are mainly two solar lighting systems in the Sunderbans. While one is of 40 watt capacity, the other is of 75 watt. Villagers also watch television and charge their mobile phones with the help of solar panels. In 2009, when cyclone Aila wreaked havoc in the area, villagers charged their mobiles with these solar panels to keep in touch with the rest of the world.
Cloudy weather hurts the efficiency of the solar panels, which do not work for work for long under such conditions. A fully charged battery runs for a maximum of two days.