The Sun and The Sundarban

In the famous jungles of eastern India, the Sundarban, the sun is making news. The home of the Royal Bengal Tiger has become a fertile ground for use of solar and other renewable forms of energy. In recent years, the abundance of sunshine in this region  has been reflecting itself in a proliferation of technologies using the sun’s power.

Among 102 odd islands that stand today, about 54 are inhabited,  Erosion is a major concern in maintaining the ecological balance that sustains the livelihoods of many. Earth scientists fear that global warming could submerge a major part of the wetland. The supply of electricity through the renewable sources of energy has the potential to enhance the income of local people, who live under constant threat from crocodiles in water and tigers on land. The language spoken is Bengali and the source of living for them is fishing, woodcutting, and honey collecting. To save themselves from tiger attacks, they have used their earthy sense—they wear masks of human faces at the back of their heads to scare tigers away.

Lighting through Solar Energy


The market for solar-operated electricity grew incrementally catering to all sections of the society in this strange land. First came stand-alone solar-operated lights more than a decade ago. Then came homelighting systems, which offer not just lights for homes at night but also facilitate the functioning of other home devices like television and fans. Today the Sundarban have solar and other renewable energy set-ups that provide electricity to the entire village from a single production source. Accepting solar energy can reduce the use of fossil fuels like diesel and kerosene, also arrest the harmful effects that these fuels afflict on the health of the people and environment.


Among the major spots of solar energy implantation is Sagar Island in the Sundarbans. Life on this island changed forever after the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources identified it as one of the priority areas for the SPV (solar photovoltaic) programme. Almost half of its villages are electrified through SPV. More than 50% of the total electricity consumed today in Sagar is generated through solar energy benefiting around 1400 families. The first 26-kWp power plant that was commissioned in February 1996 at Kamalpur village had only 19 consumers. Eight such plants operate today serving 850 consumers in 15 villages. A part of the drinking water supply scheme of the island is also energized through these power plants. The soft loan assistance from IREDA under the World Bank Market Development Programme enabled the setting up of six such plants. Best of all, the solar power plants are being operated on a commercial basis through the local rural electric co-operatives. An initial payment of Rs 1000 has to be made for a connection from the power plant. Monthly tariffs range from Rs 120 for a 100 W to Rs 1200 for a 1000 W load, thus catering to both domestic as well as small commercial ventures. Power is available for five hours daily.



The impact of renewable energy on the lives of the people is palpable. A study entitled Ramakrishna Mission Initiative Impact Study for National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado, USA undertaken by TERI in 2000, says, ‘Consumption of kerosene, which was the only source of lighting in the households prior to solar lighting systems, has been reduced by 7 litres per month on an average. The less use of kerosene minimizes the indoor pollution and prevents the diseases related with it too. Above all, they cause neither air, noise or water pollution. These boats may not just make tourists happier, but also be relatively benign to nature. The sun, it seems, more than shines in the Sundarban.


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