For the last 30 years, Dharnai, a small village in Bihar, was waiting for electricity. People here mostly used kerosene lanterns, candles, oil lamps or fire, as a source of light.
But on July 20, 2014, Dharnai got unshackled from the darkness and declared itself as an energy-independent village.
This was achieved after Greenpeace, along with CEED (Centre for Environment and Energy Development) and BASIX (a livelihood promotional institute), decided to set up a project in Dharnai with an initial cost of around Rs 3 crore.
The trio, decided to transform the lives of people in this village by bringing electricity through solar energy using Decentralized Renewable Energy System (DRES).
After working hard for nearly one and a half years, Dharnai, now not only has electricity, but has also become the first village in India to be fully powered by solar energy.
The DRES has a capacity of 100 kilowatt and is now powering a total of 450 homes of the village, serving 2,400 residents and powering 50 commercial operations.
The system also powers 60 street lights in the village, besides providing electricity to two schools, a training centre and a health care facility in the area.
The entire system is also good for the health of villagers as otherwise people were using cow dung, kerosene lamps and firewood for cooking and lighting, which according to WHO kills over four million people prematurely every year across the world.
Remembering their struggle, Kamal Kishore, a resident of Dharnai said:
“While India was growing leaps and bounds, we were stuck here for the last 30 years, trying everything in the book to get electricity. We were forced to struggle with kerosene lamps and expensive diesel generators.”
Dharnai was chosen by Greenpeace because it was perfect for the requirements that suited this kind of project. The village had agriculture as its main occupation, and also had basic social infrastructure like a school, healthcare facility, an aanganwadi (community childcare centre), and a commercial zone.
The onset of electricity in village has made a huge difference to locals, as it now allows children to study in the evening and women can now cook easily.
The street lights have made it easier for people to venture out in the evening.
During daytime, the solar powered pumps are providing access to fresh water, which is of great help to the farmers.
Besides, people now have internet at home and are also able to charge their mobile phones regularly.
After the inauguration of the project last year, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar visited the village and applauded the initiative. But since then things have changed as Greenpeace is now in a constant tussle with the government.
There have been allegations of financial irregularities, with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) even suspending Greenpeace India and its ability to receive foreign donations and freezing its domestic accounts.
While their struggle continues, India still has about 80,000 other villages that are devoid of any kind of electricity, with 19,000 being in Bihar alone.
While Centre has acknowledged the problem and has set its target at 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022, Greenpeace believes that decentralized energy systems are more helpful for villages like Dharnai than the central grid that is currently being in used by the central government.