A VILLAGE in Deoli tehsil of Wardha district combines top socio-economic goals of green energy, women empowerment and welfare of backward communities at one go. A group of 217 women from this village, whose population at 1,036 has 90 per cent belonging to the Scheduled Caste, has scripted this story by launching a solar panel manufacturing company on January 26.
Drawn from two village-level organisations (VO) of 23 self-help groups, the company named Tejaswi Solar Energy has already won Rs 40 lakh to manufacture complete units of 240 streetlights for 44 gram panchayats in eight tehsils of the district.
Promoted by the state government’s Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM), better known as Umed, the project came up with the help of IIT-B that designed the Rs 2.62-crore project. Amit Deshmukh, project manager from IIT-B, trained 44 women in different operations involved in the manufacturing of solar panels. Spread over 5,000 sq ft, the fully air-conditioned unit is equipped to manufacture solar panels with an annual capacity of up to 2 MW. The panels range from 2.5W to 100W capacities.
The project has been funded under the district planning committee budget for the tribal development scheme, Thakkar Bappa. The company has already received a working capital of Rs 1.83 crore.
“The project was conceived in March 2018. We were taken to Dungarpur in Rajasthan to see a similar project raised by a women’s group. The project had become famous after Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in one of his ‘Mann ki baat’ programmes. Later, Amit Deshmukh started training us at Kaotha in May 2018, and this went on for over a year,” said Sangita Wankhede, director of the company.
“It involved a lot of precision processing like initial testing, cutting, tabbing and stringing, interconnection, voltage-current checking, lay-upping, lamination, slicing, junction box framing and final testing. Some of the processes are computer aided. So, some of us underwent computer learning too,” she added.
Wankhede, who is among four to five graduates in the group, said, “We feel proud that despite most of us having received education up to Class X or Class XII, we have learnt something so sophisticated that we wouldn’t have imagined two years ago. It feels as if we are no less than engineers and it has given us a lot of self-confidence.”
The entire unit is operated by a group of 25 women, aged between 25 and 40, who do everything from sprucing up the premises and manufacturing the solar panels to keeping the accounts.
The 217 members of Kaotha VO hold a share of Rs 220 each in the company. “For now, we are not giving any remuneration to 25 workers at the unit. But when the company earns profit, each member will get a share and workers will get an honorarium for their contribution,” Wankhede said.
Swati Wankhede, Wardha district mission manager of SRLM, said, “The Kaotha project has added another feather in the district’s SRLM cap. Wardha is rated as the best district in the state to take up SRLM initiatives. The women here have laid down an example of determination to do something beyond their home and hearth, which they have to carry out despite their new venture.”
Amit Deshmukh of IIT-B said, “Both Dungarpur and Kaotha were very challenging with the former being more difficult since the women there were not as knowledgeable as the ones at Kaotha. But they have proven that they can carry out such sophisticated operations with a little bit of help. Both projects are aimed at achieving the mission’s objective of localising sustainable energy by locals and for locals.”
Deshmukh, however, pointed out one major difference. “Unlike at Dungarpur, where we had deployed Chinese machines, we have used India-made machines in Kaotha as part of the new thinking of achieving self-reliance.”
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