ByÂ Felix Varghese:
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya
The ancient Indian prayer from brhadarnayaka Upanishad is often attributed to the guru who removes the veil of ignorance by imparting knowledge to his disciples. Isn’t it interesting if the same guru becomes instrumental in bringing solar light into their lives and removes the actual darkness? The story of N.S. Bhatt, a teacher at the Shikegere Primary School in Yellapura taluk of Karnataka reflects this in every aspect. It is a story of lighting up the lives and minds of poor people living in the deep forest areas.
Mr Bhatt has been dependent completely on solar power for last 12 years and is living off the grid. The idea of extending electricity grid to these remote locations has always been a challenge due to the need for mass destruction of forests for laying the infrastructure. Meanwhile he has set a perfect example for sustainable living by adopting solar technology and proving that it is a viable option. In a time when we complain about erratic power supply and frequent power cuts, he becomes a question mark to our power intensive lifestyles. He runs not only the lights using solar power but has also tried a range of other equipments such as grinder, fan and TV running on D.C power. He mourns that “even though governments and organisations are pushing for renewable energy, there are not enough quality products like LED lamps, D.C appliances which can be used in the off grid applications. Otherwise poor people have to buy inverters also to operate these smoothly”.
His interest for green living is not limited to solar power alone. He tries to balance it with the use of biogas and vermi compost thereby utilizing and recycling everything available there. This is indeed the true environmentalism that we lack in our urban areas many a timesÂ and our efforts are mostly confined to online activism. Most of us are never aware that ‘green living‘ is a reality which is being practised by such individuals.
Having been inspired by his successful example, Freemason’s lodge – Dharwad, adopted the village for their Jyothir Gamaya project which provides free solar lighting systems for unelectrified areas.The lack of roads and the constant human – animal conflicts aggravate the hardships faced by these people who are dependent on subsistence farming. But these thatch roofed huts can now boast of the luxury of owning efficient solar lighting systems which provides them with energy access in a place where the electricity grid arrival seems like a distant dream. Govindappa, a beneficiary of the project was all praises for the project when he pointed out that “it would be desirable if government could come up with such projects where there are no issues of power failures and major repairs. Previously forest clearance was a big issue for us to get connected to the grid which is completely solved by this project”.
Thus this energetic school teacher became a channel to light up the tribal hamlets in his neighbourhood. Mr Bhatt also acts as the local coordinator for the project which has provided LED lamps and solar panels for around 40 households thus the school has become the focal point for all these activities where the students can convey to him the issues regarding lamps and system, which would be passed on to the company/agency by him. This is one of the most interesting scenarios where the school becomes the epicentre for both knowledge dissemination and the development activities for the village.
Throughout the bike ride with him into the forests he kept on emphasising the need to follow a sustainable lifestyle and various difficulties faced by the tribals living in these remote areas- the lack of roads and hospital facilities. The primary school in the region caters to mainly children from the tribal households which are scattered inside the forest. During the monsoon season many children find it difficult to make it to school, so most of them resort to stay within the houses of their relatives near the school or at the teacher’s house. Now with his concerted efforts and with the donations from people, they are trying to build a small hostel facility for students and teachers. Due to the remoteness of the area the teachers who are posted here always find it difficult to find proper accommodation. The hostel facility which is almost nearing completion is expected to curb this issue and as always he wants it to run on solar. The school building already has solar facility for lighting purposes.
The unique experience at ShikegereÂ shows that such ‘real life heroes’ are indeed making a huge impact and serve as an inspiration to many. Even though their humble interventions always go unheard in the mainstream media, it is clear that we need ‘superman teachers’ like him. Sometimes when RTE (Right to Education) and Renewable energy policies fail, they take incarnations to save the masses. They do tackle the issues of school dropouts and energy poverty simultaneously. It is high time the government machinery and policy makers learn lessons from them while making master plans for various interventions. The need of a bottom —up approach for the policy making process is the need of the hour. After all these achievements , Mr. Bhatt gives an innocent smile and tells “I am simply doing my duty, whenever we have the means and strength to help others it becomes our duty to execute it”