Perspective | Oped


A Tribune Special
Reaching the unreached
Tilonia’s barefoot solar engineers have transformed many villages, says Lalit Mathur
OLAR as a stand-alone system is especially relevant for remote and inaccessible areas where it is not viable for the grid to reach. About 25,000 of the 1.5 lakh unelectrified villages in India are suitable for solar lighting. This is formidable, given our past performance.


Sapped from within
National defence in the hands of amateurs
by Maj-Gen Pushpendra Singh (retd)
HOSE who forget history are doomed to repeat it! Only 60 years since Independence, our ruling establishments have already forgotten our millennium of subjugation. They are solely engaged in single-minded pursuit of pelf and power, which enables the loot.


Bloodbath on Friday
October 25, 2008
Violence versus violence
October 24, 2008
Date with the moon
October 23, 2008
Goons at work
October 22, 2008
Vote in J&K
October 21, 2008
Our congrats, Sachin!
October 20, 2008
Taming the Tigers in Lanka
October 19, 2008
Threats to the Press
October 18, 2008
Conflict of interests
October 17, 2008
No exception
October 16, 2008

The brain behind the Chandrayaan
by Harihar Swarup
HROUGH centuries, the moon remained the closest celestial body of human race. It aroused curiosity in our minds; its waxing and waning guided our religious rituals, decided auspicious and inauspicious time.

On Record
Select stocks will perform: Kumar
by Bhagyashree Pande
TOCK markets will touch a new high only in 2011 now. From now on only select stocks will perform in the markets like the public sector banks and companies that have sound fundamentals like DLF, Shobha Developers.



A Tribune Special
Reaching the unreached
Tilonia’s barefoot solar engineers have transformed many villages, says Lalit Mathur

SOLAR as a stand-alone system is especially relevant for remote and inaccessible areas where it is not viable for the grid to reach. About 25,000 of the 1.5 lakh unelectrified villages in India are suitable for solar lighting. This is formidable, given our past performance.

In 2006-07, only 500 villages were “covered” and during the Tenth Plan, 2,860 villages and 272 hamlets. At this pace it will take 50 years to reach the remaining villages. Evidently, solar has received no attention though it can be generated almost everywhere.

Policy makers and stakeholders seem convinced that it is simply not a practical proposition. They cite the experience of the Seventies and the Eighties. A special thrust was given to extending solar energy to rural areas; villages were provided with streetlights, solar panels were installed in homes and solar lanterns were distributed.

However, breakdowns could not be set right, maintenance and repair services were not provided though they were included in the contract with the suppliers. The suppliers, invariably based in state capitals, were inaccessible to the village community. Moreover, they had no interest since they had already drawn the subsidy; the state agencies did not also pursue because their targets stood achieved once the installation and distribution was completed. The programme languished and soon ceased to exist.

One cannot lose sight of the successful model — the “barefoot” solar engineers. Though the elegant and elevating model, pioneered by the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), Tilonia in Rajasthan, has achieved remarkable success, it went unnoticed. This model has been established in about 600 villages across the most backward regions of the country. It has been accepted overseas as well.

This model succeeded because it eliminated precisely those aspects of the earlier programmes which led to their failure. The villagers (invariably illiterate, and often women) are themselves trained as solar engineers to deal with all technical problems; maintenance and repair facilities are provided by setting up a fully equipped electronic workshop for every group of villages; and the community is involved both as stakeholder and as participant. Dependence on external expertise and equipment has been completely eliminated. Simple measures, but these have shown remarkable and inspiring results.

This became possible only because the ‘barefoot solar engineers are extremely competent professionals. After a six-month training at the SWRC’s Barefoot College, they can assemble, install, operate, manage and maintain the systems. These accomplished solar engineers have replaced the technical experts of the MNCs and large firms who hitherto were supposed to provide these services.

First taken up in the Nineties by the SWRC, this model is now functioning in 18 states – from Ladakh to the Eastern Ghats; from near the Nathu La pass to Rajasthan’s deserts. About 550 schools have been provided lighting, solar power plants have been installed and 528 KW of solar power is generated. The solar engineers assure trouble-free maintenance.

This success has aroused interest across the world and people from countries like Bolivia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Cameroon, Mauritania and Bhutan visit Tilonia for getting trained as solar engineers. About 90 villages have been electrified in 13 countries. Recently in Afghanistan 15 villages were electrified.

In India, however, a similar appreciation and understanding of the potential is yet to come. This is perhaps because we were ahead of other countries, following Stockholm in 1972, when the solar energy initiative was pursued. And it failed. Thus, in the flagship programme for rural electrification, the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), there is no mention of solar energy though the government has assumed responsibility for the electrification of all villages. This task on a large scale can be taken up only if the government is directly involved.

The government has provided funds but has not associated either in the planning or in the implementation – the model was essentially an NGO’s effort. However, a recent partnership between the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) of the Union Ministry of Rural Development and the SWRC has proved that direct government involvement facilitates the adoption of this model. Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have already taken up solar electrification on this basis. A brief description of the process is interesting.

To begin with, the model was ‘tested’ at NIRD’s Rural Technology Park in Hyderabad. Four women from neighbouring villages underwent training in Tilonia. They returned quite transformed as solar engineers. Subsequently, with NIRD’s funds, they produced 100 solar lanterns at the electronic workshop, set up a 5-KVA solar plant, and acquired the skill to run and maintain the plant.

The Women Barefoot Solar Engineers’ Association of Andhra Pradesh was formed in June 2005. It took on its first contract to electrify, from the 5 KVA solar plant, the National Rural Building Centre in the RTP, providing street lighting, wall lights and fans in the buildings and power for computers and printers.

The AP government next gave a composite contract to the Association with a Rs 30-lakh budget for the electrification of the Paderu Integrated Tribal Development Agency in Vizianagaram District – Thamingula and Pusalepalem, in the Eastern Ghats. Four tribal women from the two villages came to the NIRD for training at the electronics workshop in September 2005; and together they fabricated 132 home lighting systems (each costs Rs 13,500 and consists of a solar panel, 2 CFL tube lights, a point for a fan or a black and white TV), set up a rural electronics workshop in one of the villages and in March 2006, electrified the two villages.

In this period, in coordination with the ITDA, Village Energy and Environment Committees were formed and each household gave an initial contribution of Rs 1000, many in instalments. The families contribute Rs 100 every month for the maintenance of the solar lighting system; this is offset by the now negligible expenditure on kerosene which had to be purchased in the black market.

Based on this success, the Orissa government followed suit. It gave a project to the Association for the solar electrification of Tingnaput tribal village of Narayanapatna Mandal in Koraput district. Four tribal women were trained at the NIRD, the home lighting systems fabricated and Tingnaput was electrified in March 2007.

Today, the systems in the villages are functioning well, the households contribute, and homes have acquired not just lighting systems but radios, fans and TV sets as well; children can study after dark and the women complete their daily chores before they turn in for the night. The solar engineers have handled all teething and operational problems. There is a demand from neighbouring villages for solar electrification and they are willing to raise contributions.

At the NIRD, the 5-KVA solar plant has provided trouble free power to the complex for over three years. The buildings are used by the faculty as lecture halls to hold training and workshop sessions, and also as offices, replete with computers and other equipment.

The Association made a presentation at the Indian Science Congress in 2006 and have participated in exhibitions, including the India International Trade Fair at New Delhi. They now feel empowered. The process once started progresses with a momentum of its own; it also has a multiplier effect. Each electronics workshop becomes a nucleus for training solar engineers and for extending solar lighting to additional villages!

Two important aspects of the decentralised approach are noteworthy — demystification of sophisticated technology and skilled job opportunities. One, the model transforms the technical processes of installation, management and maintenance to simple tasks which are performed by the villagers. And two, skilled job opportunities are created for the poor in most backward areas.

Not surprisingly, most unelectrified and remote villages are in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, UP, Uttrakhand and the North-East. There will be a demand for solar engineers in these villages to install and manage the systems and also to train others.

The decentralised model has worked for two decades as an NGO effort. The pilot at the NIRD in Hyderabad and in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa has shown that it can succeed as a government programme. It is feasible and more importantly, replicable in all environments. For remote areas it is indeed the most practical.

We now require the government’s direct participation for the solar electrification of villages. This means a departure from the present approach – where some funds are given to NGOs like the SWRC, and the matter is left at that. State governments and institutions must take the responsibility of implementation. Pilot projects based on the NIRD-AP- Orissa experience should precede any large-scale programme in the state to bring confidence and commitment within government for this approach.

Meanwhile, while the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy continues to be responsible, the procedures for extending photo-voltaic lighting to remote villages has been made simpler and the Ministry has adequate funds to do so, now provided by the Ministry of Power, as for the RGVVY.

Hamlets can also be independently covered. A new window has been opened for training and capacity building, and provisions for infrastructure like workshops for repair and maintenance. Clearly, the essential components of the decentralised model can be fully supported by the government. A large effort is possible.

A national programme must be formulated on the pattern of the Prime Minister’s Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), a systematic initiative in recent years, with surveys, assessments of technical, material and human inputs, arrangements for the release of funds, monitoring, management and troubleshooting.

However, solar electrification in the decentralised model differs from the PMGSY in one respect. While it is in the project mode, it is much more people-oriented. It is not a mechanical process, which can be tendered out in the fashion of the grid extension programmes. It requires an effort, and is also difficult, for it means interaction with the village community, and a participatory mode — not easy in the power sector where the only experience similar to this was that of the rural electricity cooperatives. These aspects have to be dealt with care, understanding and commitment.

An appreciation of the package as a process, the building up and strengthening of nodal institutions, support for an effective management system for coordination and oversight and a realistic time-bound programme would all be essential. A framework could be worked out in consultation with the states.

Fortunately, we already have the commitment under the RGGVY to electrify all villages in the country and to provide lighting to all rural households by 2012. There will, therefore, be no financial constraints. It is necessary only to bring solar energy on board. Perhaps the most difficult step will be the first — to make a serious beginning.

The writer, a former IAS officer, was the Director-General, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad



Sapped from within
National defence in the hands of amateurs
by Maj-Gen Pushpendra Singh (retd)

THOSE who forget history are doomed to repeat it! Only 60 years since Independence, our ruling establishments have already forgotten our millennium of subjugation. They are solely engaged in single-minded pursuit of pelf and power, which enables the loot.

Most often, Mir Qasims from within have opened the gates to foreigners. While Raja Puru fought Alexander valiantly, Ambhi of Taxila, allied with the Greeks to settle personal scores. The Kannauj Kings similarly aided Ghazni and Ghori. However, failure to keep pace with military technology led to defeat at Panipat, 1526. A view prevails that military domination is outmoded today. Hence, MoD-bureaucrats feel secure while continuing to diminish defence forces’ status and cutting edge. Such thinking is fallacious.

The Sixth Pay Commission fiasco revealed the purposeful machinations of MoD-bureaucrats to lower armed forces’ status, yet again. When the Chiefs protested, newspapers, once renowned for fearlessly frank journalism, carried explicit threats. Thankfully, many TV channels and intrepid journals defied MoD and exposed how babus tried to degrade two crucial ranks while ignoring A.K. Antony’s explicit orders. This had immediate ramifications in security-sensitive Kashmir at police chiefs’ and Corps Commanders’ levels.

In 1982, this writer was in Jammu and Kashmir, with a formation holding defences on the LoC. Two low-threat sectors were held by BSF battalions. The Commander had called an operational conference of all COs – then Lieutenant Colonels. However, BSF COs arrived late, sporting full-Colonel type rank-badges with attendant blue collar-tabs. Only the Commander’s tact and Army COs’ maturity prevented disharmony from affecting the LoC defence. Imagine the morale-impact on 3000 Army troops in this one brigade — replicated all across Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast. Clearly, defence of the Republic is inconsequential; only ‘putting-the-Army-down’ counts.

Not only degraded status and unchecked violation of warrant of precedence erodes the nation’s security. Defence officers in Services’ HQs are soul-destroyed by deliberate, humiliating delays in defence procurements and other decisions. Petty functionaries are encouraged to pose frivolous questions for delaying cases. During Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership, babus invented the perfect catch-22 situation. Service HQs had submitted the 5-year modernisation plan, but supremely insolent, MoD neither accepted it, nor offered any objections.

Then, modernisation cases were rejected, stating “the Plan was not approved”. Even cases to meet emergent operational developments were turned down, stating that “it is not included in the Plan”. Crucial capability-voids built up for 10 to 30 years. Later, most proved key deficiencies leading to 1999 Kargil LoC violations – and snuffing out 700 valiant young lives. Sadly, no bureaucrat or the Defence Minister has ever been held accountable for such lapses.

Today, the lack of aircraft carriers has hamstrung the Navy from acting effectively against Somali pirates. The indigenous nuclear submarine remains only a wish. Similarly, the Air Force is down to 34 squadrons and its transport fleet reduced by 40 per cent. The Army is no better off, with the successful trials for the 155mm Howitzer being nullified on specious grounds. The requirement had been articulated 15 years back. With a fresh RFP, the clock has been turned back 25 years. Indeed, over INR 18,300 crore was made to lapse in the 2002-07 Plan period and about INR 4,200 crore in the last financial.

Furthermore, unlike in any modern democracy, service officers are excluded from strategic and defence policy-making. The Chiefs are only invitees (rarely) to the CCS and the NSA has been a civilian since inception. National defence has remained in the hands of bumbling amateurs right from Independence and the results stare the nation in its face. In early October 1947, our first C-in-C (a Britisher) presented Nehru with a plan for Army modernisation. He turned it down disdainfully, saying that there was no need for any Army plan in Gandhian India. He had to eat his words only 15 days later as Pakistan attacked Jammu and Kashmir. Nevertheless, his government was once again criminally culpable of destroying the Army’s fighting capability – and the 1962 humiliation. However, neither MoD bureaucrats nor elected representatives, supposedly responsible to the people for national security, have ever committed a written directive to the Service Chiefs.

It is our national policy that every inch of our sovereign territory will be safeguarded. Yet in 1947 we lost POK, Gilgit-Baltistan. Then the Chinese swallowed Aksai Chin, built a highway through our territory while Pakistan illegally ceded 5000 sq km of our territory. While this is not medieval-style military occupation, it’s close. And it stems from military weakness fostered actively by MoD under bureaucratic control over the armed forces.

The internal security situation also is the worst – on the watch of civilian NSAs. In a third of our districts, Naxalites rule the roost. The Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir are insurgency-plagued and major worship places of all religions have been attacked! A siege mentality grips minorities, Christians, Sikh or Muslim — and the government is powerless to enforce the law.

Weakened armed forces are a strategic impediment even in 21st century. Debilitated Russia failed to prevent NATO from granting Kosovo independence. Further, the stark reality of Central Asian gas and oil pipeline by-passing Russia via Georgia confronted Putin, which was pre-empted by resurgent Russian power. Military resurgence also enabled effective intervention to prevent genocide of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia.

What about India? What more can we lose if our forces continue to be sapped from within? Well, Arunachal Pradesh, Kashmir, control over Tibet-origin river waters and ‘independent’ foreign policy — for starters!

Modern-day strategic strength derives from economic might and technological prowess etc. But military strength remains the key, enabling capability. Our civilian technological prowess is world-class. However, civilian-controlled DRDO has failed to deliver major strategic systems. Our much-vaunted economic strength is no match to China’s.

Two key prerequisites for economic well-being are energy and water. Take energy first. Implicitly backed by military might, China has clinched strategic deals for exclusive oil concessions from CAR, Venezuela and Africa, outstripping ONGC due substantively to our defence weakness. For decades China pursued its ‘string-of-pearls’ strategy to control energy-critical sea-links. Chinese Naval presence at Gwadar (only 180 NM from the Hormuz Straits) throttles India’s energy jugular. Similarly, bases at Chittagong and Sittwe (Myanmar) complete Chinese domination over Indian Ocean.

Water is the next4 crucial resource as our glaciers disappear. China controls two lifeline rivers: the Indus and the Brahmaputra. Instead of stressing our riparian rights in border talks, we are on the backfoot, contending against China’s specious claim over entire Arunachal Pradesh. Military weakness has also compromised an independent foreign policy vis-à-vis China more than the US.

One example: Tibetan-activists doused the Olympic flame in Paris — a movement of strategic significance to India. Nevertheless, we submitted to humiliating Chinese demands curtailing Tibetan demonstrations, and the world witnessed the unedifying spectacle of our National Security Advisor physically supervising the torch’s Delhi run.

To stem the rot in national defence, it is time Parliament institutionalised induction of service professionals at strategic policy-making forums. Also, we must induct a half a dozen eminent servicemen (retired) in the Rajya Sabha to enable Parliament to effectively oversee the nation’s defence and strategic interests.



The brain behind the Chandrayaan
by Harihar Swarup

THROUGH centuries, the moon remained the closest celestial body of human race. It aroused curiosity in our minds; its waxing and waning guided our religious rituals, decided auspicious and inauspicious time. Perhaps, because of this faith that ISRO scientists visited temples to seek the blessings of gods before the launch, and afterwards, some expressed belief that it was because of their prayers that rain had held off until the rocket was put in the space. ISRO Chairman R. Madhavan Nair was quoted as saying “the rain gods have been kind to us”.

The myth that the moon was a heavenly body was broken when the world’s moon mission was launched by erstwhile Soviet Union on January 2, 1959 followed by the US two months later. The moon is another planet like India but does not have human life of any kind. Now ISRO has launched India’s first lunar spacecraft. Chandrayaan-I has propelled the country into the select club that have sent missions to the moon. Its successful launch marked a crowning moment for a highly motivated team of scientists led by Nair.

Indeed, Nair is a great Indian nationalist. Chandrayaan-I mission has been a dream of his life when he was a child as he wanted to unravel the mysteries of the celestial object. By the time he was 24, he was helping the first sounding rocket that demonstrated that India could one day be a power in the space. Since then, Nair assumed a leading role in the design of every satellite launch vehicle to lift off from the sub-continent, and has managed several space centres.

As he rose through the ranks, his vision and administrative abilities made him the obvious choice to lead the country’s civilian space agency. Asked by the media if the Chandrayaan mission  is a shift in priorities — from social responsibilities to space research — he said it is not so much a change in priorities as the culmination of 60 years of development. We have always conducted research on small scale. Almost every satellite we have sent has had some sort of research instrument. We have done different projects on the atmosphere, ionosphere, star emissions and on X-rays and gamma X-rays.

He said we have had so much success at studying the Earth from space that studying the moon from space is the obvious next step. Besides, the Chandrayaan mission is cheap — only $80 million over several years and about 2 per cent of our budget.

How will the Chandrayaan mission advance the state of space science? Nair says on social level, it is going to enthuse youngsters to take on future missions. More practically, we are going to account for the types of minerals that exist on moon and whether or not they will be commercially exploitable  in the long run.



On Record
Select stocks will perform: Kumar
by Bhagyashree Pande

Kavee KumarSTOCK markets will touch a new high only in 2011 now. From now on only select stocks will perform in the markets like the public sector banks and companies that have sound fundamentals like DLF, Shobha Developers.

In 2009, there will be mergers and acquisitions and consolidations wherein weaker players in all sectors will consolidate or merge as money with corporate India will be scarce and hence a lot of businesses will be folding up, says Kavee Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Multiplex Capital Ltd, in an interview to The Sunday Tribune.


Q: What is the fallout of the US, Europe financial crisis?

A: Internationally what we are witnessing is the transfer of assets once again back to the developing and emerging economies from where these assets went in the first place. Look at the stakes being bought by Middle Eastern and Japanese firms in the distressed financial sector in the West. This is only the beginning; more will come over a period of time. India, Japan and China are in a position of strength because they have huge foreign exchange reserves invested in US treasury bills.

Q: What are its implications for India?

A: The present correction was needed as there were excesses everywhere in India in construction, real estate, media, entertainment; everyone wanted to participate in the India growth story and money was coming in droves in these sectors. There was terrific money being made by young professionals in the 25-35-year age group. Their lifestyle was getting more and more opulent. Everyone thought that this was an endless party. All this has ended. It’s a horrific end which we can see today.

Q: What will be impact of commodity prices cooling in Indian economy?

A: In some ways, it will benefit us as prices of iron, nickel, steel, copper, etc. have come down. The loss of prices on end product will partly be offset by the low cost of inputs. Like if the price of steel has come down, then the cost of ingredients in making steel like iron ore prices, nickel, etc. have also come down. So even if there is loss on making more steel, the low cost of inputs will offset the depressed prices of steel.

Q: What are the growth prospects for India?

A: The cooling down of prices will also bring down inflation. The subsidy burden on oil, fertilisers and food will also come down thereby improving the macro economic picture. This will bring down the borrowing of government, the highest borrower, and hence will leave more money in the system for corporate India to borrow. We will grow a bit slowly as against the 8-9 per cent growth that we are aiming. The US downturn will not affect us much because we export more to Europe than to the US, unlike China which has major exports only to the US.

Q: When will the stock markets improve?

A: I see markets touching a new high only in 2011 now; in 2009 there will be mergers and acquisitions and consolidations wherein weaker players in all sectors will consolidate or merge as money with corporate India is going to be scarce and hence a lot of businesses will be folding up.

Most of the money in corporate India was coming from external commercial borrowings, stock market listing, foreign direct investments but these routes have dried up and will dry up even further. Unfortunately, there will be shakeouts and unemployment in all sunrise sectors like retail, IT, ITES, media and entertainment, real estate. Tremors of bad times have just started; now the ripple effect will start coming.

Q: Where do you see rupee heading in the near future?

A: The rupee will settle in the range of 44-46 but will not touch the 50 level.

Q: Where will the oil and gold prices touch in future in the international market?

A: The oil should settle between $50 and $60 level since the serious recession in the US will see the oil prices coming down. The consumption from India, China and Africa (which is growing at 5 per cent) will still continue, but they will only compensate for the loss of the US demand and not add to it. So the oil prices will go down further.

The prices of gold will also come down from the present Rs 13000 per 10 gms to nearly Rs 10,000 level. This will happen because the US will start selling the gold that it has in reserves.

Q: Where do you see the real estate prices?

A: There will be further correction of real estate prices by nearly 30-40 per cent. As there will be drop in buying by individuals due to retrenchment, there will be a drop in corporate demand for commercial space owing to businesses consolidating and folding up.



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