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People's Environmental Awareness - Khati (PEAK) Follow PEAK with the financial assistance of World Nomads on the path to delivering educational, water supplies & solar home lighting systems to Kumaon villages....

Solar Home Lighting - Interim Report

INDIA | Monday, 10 October 2011 | Views [638]

Mohan & Kusal unloading solar goodies...

Mohan & Kusal unloading solar goodies...

This interim report provides an overview of the progress and challenges of the solar home lighting project from conception through to the delivery of the units to the village of Khati where they are currently stored in PEAK's building. Th final phase, of installation into Jatoli, Dhoor and Libhurghur villages is scheduled for completion at the end of 2011.

The initial planning stages of the solar home lighting project began after PEAK monitored the initial project where 65 solar units were installed into Khati village in 2008. Based o the success of the Khati project, PEAK decided to extend the reach of the solar project to villages that are similarly bereft of grid electricity. Inn the intervening time frame technology advanced and luminosity of the bulbs are now enhanced with Nichia LEDs. The new units consist of a 12V/10W solar panel, 12V/7Ah battery, two 42 LED lights, one 6 LED night lamp, mobile phone charging outlets and a 19 LED portable torch. The units were purchased fro the Grameen Surya Bijlee Foundation (GSBF) who have purpose built the systems for developing world conditions. In addition to the acquisition of 80 solar units, the high rate for the Australian dollar enabled PEAK to purchase tow Lead Acid 12/180Ah batteries and a 50W monochrystalline panel from the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (UREDA) for dual use in the Classroom (ostensibly for lighting but has also paved the way for future computer use) and Community Environment Centre.
A portent of the difficulties to come, lay in the spectacular monsoon of 2010 that coincided with our arrival that not only took many lives but saw sections of the road from Bharari to Saung (where the goods were to be transported) totally obliterated rendering it impassable to vehicle traffic for months....
As a fledgling organisation in 2008 PEAK undertook the Khati Solar Home Lighting Project and learnt of the intricacies of bureaucracy and business in India. These 'lessons' enabled staff to undertake this project with the full knowledge that 'anything that can go wrong, does go wrong and some'! The necessity of a Sales Tax Advocate to ensure the ease of transition of the goods from GSBF in Mumbai to PEAK in Uttarakhand was realised after the 'debacle' regarding tax issues on our first project. This process and inherent difficulties were significantly reduced with the help of Khim SIngh who proved to be a diligent Tax Advocate & Tulsi Devi (Pradhan of Waucham) whose signature was necessary on all relevant paperwork in conjunction with Nandan & Dhan - two community members whom verified the village beneficiaries . Despite all the time spent between offices and government departments, we managed to keep smiling (aided by the comic relief with the incongruous image of Dhan expected to carry the Tax Advocate's rather small black attache case) and drinking copious cups of chai (tea). All the while reminding ourselves tht conducting business is 'different' on the sub continent and takes an enormous amount of patience and perseverance but somehow comfortable with the knowledge that things do 'come together in the end'.
A final audit on solar unit numbers was undertaken at village level, goods ordered and road permit in hand.... Things were looking good until a major snag was hit with payment. Post Mumbai terrorist attacks (2008), the Indian government introduced a new ruling that all money sourced from offshore can only be processed if the recipient of the the funds - in this case the GSBF - provided an FRC certificate to the State Bank of India proving the money was for the legitimate purchase of solar goods (as opposed for use in terrorist activities). The money left PEAK's bank account in Australia to languish at the head branch of the State Bank of India in Kolkatta for nearly thee months awaiting the requisite paperwork. Unfortunately (but understandably), GSBF did not want to tangle with bureaucracy and failed to provide the relevant certificate. Time ticked on and this left PEAK back at base one!!
As the outside world comes a step close into the valley, PEAK staff no longer have to walk to Dhakuri Pass (a full day mission) to use the telephone. There are now several phones in Khati, alas we had not bargained on the sporadic nature of signal strength that was invariably unavailable during business hours! In the absence of an adequate phone connection or computer access PEAK staff were forced to make many trips to Bageshwar, Almora and finally in frustration to Delhi where facilities were readily available. In a momentous show of goodwill Jasjeet Singh Chaddah (head of GSBF) elected to send the goods to PEAK while payment was pending. At this juncture, all parties were unaware of both the time and complexities involved in processing the International Monetary Transfer. However, having he road permit organised and using a courier company that enabled tracking of the goods via the internet if necessary (and it was!) simplified the procedure of delivery. Though nothing ever happens as quickly as one would expect....
There was jubilation when it was announced (by 'mountain telegraph') that the goods had arrived at the old road head. PEAK had previously negotiated witht he mule 'wallahs' to bring the goods in from Saung. However, the opening of the new fair weather road to Kurkia, six kilometres from Khati saw the mule wallahs debate the merits of bringing the goods all the way from Saung over Dhakuri Pass via mule verses a mix, utilising jeeps. After much dialogue over several days about the best way to move the goods it was decided to get 'a relative' who owned a jeep to collect the goods at Saung deliver to Kurkia then load the boxes onto the mules in a 'relay to bring them into Khati. Finally, 16 mules made their way intto Khati oladed with 42 boxes of goodies. PEAK insisted on employing jeep and mule wallah's in order to support local livliehoods. In the next phase of the project PEAK will engage village labour from Jatoli, Dhoor and Libhurgur for carting and installation of the units.
Luckily, by the time the order arrived in Saung, a minimal snowfall season meant the road and mule track into the valley were relatively clear (that's if you discount the melting permafrost mud that the jeep bogged down in... often) and the boxes were delivered unscathed - a remarkable feat when you consider the journey they had made - to PEAK's doorstep. Upon seeing the boxes stacked up, six year old Tota danced around, visibly excited in a way we couldn't fathom, she then asked "are you opening a shop?" Her little happy face faded when we told he the solar goods had arrived and the realisation of her joy dawned as she explained she thought the boxes were full of biscuits!
Payment was eventually made through e-remit with the State Bank of India in Sydney, Australia for a better exchange rate than the initial attempted payment earlier in the year. All in all the process has been fraught with difficulties from problematic road conditions to organisational logistics and was time consuming especially during delivery/banking payment phase. However, 'patience and perseverance' prevailed and the goods are now firmly ensconced in the PEAK building. PEAK staff decided a break was necessary during the monsoon season and installation of the units is slated for completion by the end of the year (2011).
Bonnie & Scott

Tags: business, grameen surya bijlee foundation, solar home lighting, tax advocate



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