It takes more than two hours of a back-breaking drive of just 28 km on a bumpy, winding kuchha road from Rohtas to reach Rehal, situated at a height of 2,400 feet above sea level on Kaimur hill. Rehal, nearly 200 km from Patna in Pipardeeh panchayat in Nauhatta block in Bihar, is a remote village that falls under forest area. Hence, it is not connected to a conventional power grid. The groundwater level in the region is around 250 to 300 feet deep. There are no irrigation facilities. Cattle rearing is the main source of livelihood but for the most part of the year, people have to take their cattle down the hill to other places for grazing. The entire population is dependent on fuel wood for cooking. Life, until recently, had been tough for the people living in this far-flung village. Now, however, it seems that their woes are coming to an end, thanks to solar power.
The process of making Rehal a solar village started four months ago. So far, 132 households have been connected to two solar grids of 10 kW capacity each. Three LED bulbs and a connection for using a fan have been provided per household.
Rajesh Kumar Yadav, a Class V student, sounds excited, “Finally, I will be able to get more time to study and that too in the bright light of the LED,” he says as he proudly takes us inside his house. More than that, he and his family are happy about the cool air from the fan, with the mercury rising every day.
Another 15 kW capacity solar grid is in the process of being installed, and a 20 kW capacity solar grid will be installed within a month. This will ensure that every household in the village gets electricity. Above poverty line families will have to shell out Rs 60 a month for the solar power, while below poverty line families will pay half that amount. The families already connected to the grid are getting seven to eight hours of electricity every day. The cost of these grids ranges from over Rs 4.1 million to more than Rs 7.6 million, depending on the capacity of each grid. Over Rs 300,000 has been spent on lines to connect individual households.
Before the installation of the solar grids, 17 stand-alone solar systems were put in place a few months back to provide electricity to a primary school, a primary health centre and other community complexes. In what is referred to as old Rehal, 115 households were also provided with a 200 W capacity solar panel system for lighting and mobile charging. People in Rehal had been complaining for a long time about their acute water problem. The entire village was dependent on two wells, where the water is at such a depth that it takes a long time to fill just a few buckets. There were often fights amongst the villagers for water.
Running tap water has become a dream come true for the people of this village. Over 200 households have been given water connections. This became possible with the installation of five solar water pumping systems costing over Rs 6.6 million. As mentioned earlier, the groundwater level in this area is very deep. Each of the 1.5 HP submersible solar pumps has a 1,280 W solar panel, a water tank with a storage capacity of 5,000 litres, placed atop a 9 foot high structure. It is regulated by automatic sensors. A 2,240 metre long pipe has been constructed for supplying water to every household. If people do not waste water, they can get water 24×7, say officials. Women who had to fetch water from the well are happy because they now do not have to waste their energy and time. Sumitri Devi is one of them. “We had to spend several hours for our turn to draw water from the well, sometimes at night, leading at times to fights for just a bucket of water. Now I can fill as many utensils as I want and that too in my own house.”
A community solar cooker has been installed for cooking midday meals for children in the primary school. Two teachers and a cook in the school have been briefed on how to use it for cooking meals or if need be, for other community usage. Besides this, 10 more solar cookers with aluminium reflectors meant for individual families have been provided in the village from corporate social responsibility funds.
Rehal being in a forest area, people here use fuel wood for cooking. A proposal to set up a gobar gas plant costing Rs 7.5 million is awaiting sanction. The plant is likely to be ready in three to four months. Since rearing cattle is one of the main occupations of the people of Rehal and there are 4,000-5,000 cattle, there is no dearth of cattle dung. The biogas plant will, hopefully, end the dependence on fuel wood and villagers will not have to waste time in getting fuel wood. It will also reduce carbon emissions.
Given the pace at which development work has been taken up, this remote village is on the threshold of becoming a “model village”, showcasing how solar power can transform lives in off-grid hamlets. As the young boy Rajesh said, “Gaunv ke bhavishya mein ujala ho gaya. (The future of the village has become bright.)” Indeed, so.