Mobile phones may have become too common to attract attention. But what is noteworthy is their use by semi-literate, hut-dwelling tribals of villages in Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh who travel upto 30 kilometres for 20 days a month to charge their cell phones at shops in nearby towns.
The shops take Rs 10 - Rs 15 for full charge but it lasts them only two days.
“We need mobile phones to watch films, listen to songs as there is no other means of entertainment in our villages. Labour contractor can also contact us easily,” said Ganesh, 25, a farmer from Saladwada village.
“Mobile phone is necessary like food. At times it is more important, as we can talk to our relatives who have migrated for work in other cities,” added farm labourer Dilla, 45.
However, this long-distance travel to charge their cell phones may be a thing of past. Four MBA students of National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE), Mumbai, have come to their help. They have developed solar mobile chargers, which they demonstrated at a gathering held in Jhabua on March 7. The charger will cost Rs 2,500 - Rs 3,000.
The students - Pankaj Sonawane, Kapil Verma, Krishna Chandra Pandey, Sumit Suman - through Students in Free Enterprises (an international organisation working in rural community and development with 40 countries including India as its members) have been coming to Jhabua for past three years to work for Shivganga campaign, a watershed development programme launched by tribals under the aegis of Shivganga Samagra Gramvikas Parishad (NGO).
“What surprised us in Jhabua is that people have mobile phones but no electricity in their homes. It was then we thought of developing solar charger,” Kapil Verma said.
The tribals responded well to the solar mobile charger when told that five of them can collectively buy the set, which will save money, time spent in travel while they can recover the cost within 120 days.
“We will start supplying the solar chargers within one and half months. The charger’s manufacturing cost will decrease with rise in supply,” Verma said.
What more, the solar mobile charger would contribute to National Solar Power Mission 2020, which aims to achieve target of developing 10,000 MW of solar power.