Lack of funds and subsidy to install solar panels is turning out to be the biggest impediment in improving the economic situation of the agariyas in the Little Rann of Kutch.
The use of solar panels installed by agariyas with the help of Self Employed Women’s Association (Sewa) has led to considerable financial gains for this community, which ekes out a living by toiling in the harsh climes of the Rann for nearly eight months a year.
To understand how solar panels have changed their lives and to lend a helping hand to spread the use of sustainable energy, Kandeh Yumkella, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative (SGSR) and chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), visited the agariyas in the Rann. There, he discussed with the agariya women how SGSR could help to improve their lives.
Speaking about the impact of solar panels, Mavjjibhai Prabhubhai, an agariya, said they go to the Rann to make salt every year. “We borrow money from traders. At the end of the crop, we are left with Rs20,000 as our income. A substantial part of our earnings goes to procure diesel to run the generators used to draw water from the ground,” said Prabhubhai, adding that the use of solar panels to run generators saves them around Rs80,000.
“We need 5 litre of diesel every day to run generators throughout the day. If we have solar panels, we won’t have to spend money on diesel and the money saved could be used for the education of our children or to improve our lot. The savings come to nearly Rs12,000 a month. But the problem is that solar panels are very expensive and we don’t get any subsidy from the government in spite of farmers and other households being extended the benefit,” said Prabhubhai. “Sewa has helped install 10 solar panels for Rs1.5 lakh each and we return the amount in small installments,” said Bhavnaben Mangabhai. Prabhubhai said though the traders are willing to install the solar panels, they demand the salt in return for a price fixed by them.
Yumkella said this was a prime example of an opportunity for both the civil society and the government to come together and work for a cause. “The main purpose of the visit was to see how solar energy is empowering women and enhancing their productivity and help generate income in poor societies,” he pointed out, adding that in poor countries, it was the women that pay the bigger price for lack of energy, a challenge that can be met by solar power. Yumkella further stated that they would take back the experience to decide how to promote the cause of sustainable energy.
Reema Nanavaty, director of Sewa Trade Facilitation Centre, said they are in talks with the Gujarat government, the Centre as well as other agencies to help extend subsidy for solar panels to agariyas. “Our aim is to cover 5,000 agariyas in the next year. The 10 solar panels that were installed are part of a pilot project initiated by Sewa,” said Nanavaty.
She added that as part of another project, Hariyali, Sewa has also given solar lights and cooking stove to 2 lakh people and are planning to cover 5 lakh people under the scheme.