Rangita is in her 30s. But it wasn’t until a couple years ago that she could go to bed later than the sun.
She was always in a hurry to get the family meals made before the light disappeared. Her village is not connected to the electricity grid, and too poor to afford torch batteries, kerosene lamps were the only source of light available.
“That’s how we got some light in the evenings and these lamps would burn till dawn in the streets here.”
But since 2007 her life has taken a radical turn for the better for Rangita and the others of her village, Tamkuha. She can stay up later and chat with her neighbours after dinner; she no longer worries about snakes biting her one and a half year old son in the no longer dark family courtyard; and she knows that when her son is ready to go to school, he’ll be able to do his homework in her now well lit home.
Tamkuha is situated in one of India’s most infamously backward regions – Bihar. Over two million children in the state are out of school. Nearly 60 percent of all households have no immediate access to roads, nearly 80 percent don’t have piped water, and electricity is still out of reach to most Biharis.
But Tamkuha and 60 nearby villages found a saviour in Gyanesh Pandey. A graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Gyanesh could have easily chosen a fancy job and a middle class life in Delhi. Instead he decided to use his engineering degree to work on finding a green source of electricity generation.
He hit upon the one product that Bihar has in abundance – a product that previously had only ever been considered waste; rice husks. But Gyanesh Pandey had his work cut out for him:
“We chose the worst possible place to try our technology. Tamkuha is a hotbed of criminal activities, and in fact, they call it the ‘university of kidnapping’. We thought if we could prove it here then we could do it anywhere”
Rice husk is normally just burned away but Pandey’s company Husk Power Systems decided they could harness its fuel potential. They developed a technology to transform the husks into a gas to feed engines which produced electricity. And this electricity was cheaper than that from the national grid. And they decided to open up as many jobs in the company as they could to employ locals.
Gyanesh is delighted at the change he’s seen around him in the last three years.
“The entire village would be asleep by 8:30 – 9:00 pm. But now they stay up much longer. They don’t panic if they forget to carry a torch light. Now they don’t have to pay to charge their cell phone - they can do it at home. Earlier, small businesses would charge the villagers Rs 5 - Rs10 just to charge a cell phone.”
And Gyanesh is unequivocal about his job satisfaction.
“This is the best experience of my life…Electricity can seed a lot more than just some lumens of light. It can affect each aspect of roti, kapda and makaan (food, clothes and shelter). And the way we do this ensures that every single individual who interacts with us goes feeling a little bit better about things.”