In the current Climate Change talks in Bali, there is a great debate about the role of India and China in cutting down their greenhouse gases. This story provides a good viewpoint of the current problem facing India.
The Mint has an interview with Harish Hande, the founder of SELCO-India and the winner of the 2007 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award in India.
The problem: In a country where we spend thousands of watts of electricity for a day and night cricket match, use the power greedy heater to ward off the winter chill, there lies another India where villages are dimly lit by paraffin lamps and dim lights battling darkening chimneys. For this cash-strapped India an ignited filament powered by current is a rare luxury, for they cannot even afford electricity.
Finding basic electricity is still an issue in India. How do you convince those people that they need to cut down their carbon emissions?
Hande is working towards building solar home systems for poor people in India with technicians on the ground understanding the actual requirements. He is collaborating with banks to provide an affordable way to own these systems.
In terms of economics, Hande has some interesting cost figures.
For example, there are 20 million street vendors in the country. In Delhi, a street vendor pays Rs15-20 everyday for an incandescent light. We do not pay Rs600 a month for a single light, neither do we pay Rs2,400 a month for four lights. That means poor people pay more for energy. It is the same case with Bangalore street vendors who pay Rs15 every evening for a kerosene lamp they use for four hours whereas solar costs Rs5-6, that too for five to six hours. It is a grave reality that the poor end up paying more for energy. Surely, this needs far more serious intervention.
And on the role of government.
In terms of central and state governments, the biggest plus is that they are not interfering. I have seen it in other countries like Dominican Republic where the government suddenly appeared on the scene, subsidized it, and spoiled the whole programme. However, the government can help by replicating our work on a mass scale. For that, we need many similar social enterprises and government policies that can creating caps in financial institutions, in much the same way as they did for agricultural financing 40-50 years ago.