Economy

A walk with the ‘sun-catcher' in rural India

A. J. Vinayak Mangalore | Updated on July 28, 2011 Published on July 28, 2011

Lighting up lives: File photo of Mr Harish Hande, Managing Director of Selco Solar Light Pvt Ltd, and a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for 2011





The scorching heat on an afternoon in March was no deterrent to Dr Harish Hande, a winner of Ramon Magsaysay award for this year, nor the rough road leading to a small hut of a forest dweller (about 8 km away from the nearest Shishila village in Dakshina Kannada district) when this correspondent visited the spot along with him.

When he visited the houses and met people, Dr Hande had the same eagerness to enquire about their problems, and the issues related to solar lighting system there.

These houses were beneficiaries of a scheme implemented by Rotary Club of Belthangady to extend solar lighting system for the poor.

Mr Narayan Bhide, an agriculturist from Ujire in Dakshina Kannada district, who is actively involved in implementing solar lighting system through Rotary International, says that “Dr Hande has better knowledge about rural areas in Dakshina Kannada than any of us put together.”

Vision

Terming him as a different type of youngster, Mr K.M. Udupa, Trustee of the Manipal-based Bharatiya Vikas Trust, who nurtured the idea of Dr Hande to provide solar light to light-less rural poor way back in 1994, says that he would have made millions of dollars, had he decided to continue work in the US.

But he came back to work in rural India.

Son of an electrical engineer from Kota in Udupi district, Dr Hande studied in Rourkela where his father was working.

A roommate of Hande's father for four years in Bangalore, Mr Udupa says that the bright Harish got a seat in IIT Kharagpur for his professional studies. He did his MS in Massachusetts Institute of Technology and took up a Ph.D. in energy with a fellowship.

Recalling the time when Dr Hande was doing his doctoral thesis at MIT Boston, Mr Udupa says Dr Hande, as part of his project, had to implement his photo-voltaic technology in 100 houses in a country.

Lack of funds

When he did not find support from the Government to implement his project, Mr Udupa, who was the then Chairman of Malaprabha Grameen Bank (now Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank), assured him of extending financial assistance to beneficiaries, provided he took steps to implement the solar lighting system in the villages.

“Probably we are the first one to extend financial assistance for solar lighting in the world,” Mr Udupa says proudly.

After completion of his Ph.D, Dr Hande came across Mr Nevel Williams, the promoter of solar power applications around the world since 1988 and founder of Solar Electric Company Ltd. Mr Williams identified him for implementing the project, and Dr Hande was made in-charge of Selco India, Mr Udupa says.

Dr Hande, who took the assistance of NGOs to promote solar lighting system, was able to create awareness about that in rural areas.

Dr L.H. Manjunath, Executive Director of Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), says that Selco's relationship with SKDRDP began in 1998.

The efforts of Selco and SKDRDP since then have helped create awareness about solar lighting system in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. “We were giving the loan to the beneficiaries and DrHande's company was installing and monitoring the solar lighting system,” he says. Both the agencies together have installed 10,000 units in 400 villages of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district till now, he adds.

Dr Manjunath describes Dr Hande as person committed for the technology transfer to rural areas.

Summarising him as a man of faith and commitment, Udupa says: “His intention was to extend light to the light-less rural poor.

I am equally happy because from the day one I am associated with him.”

Let the breed of social entrepreneurs such as Dr Harish increase in this country, he adds.

Published on July 28, 2011
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