Barapitha is a tribal village situated close to the metro city of Bhubhaneshwar, Odisha and is Odisha’s first 100 per cent solar village. This village had no access to electricity. Until 2015, on Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, village witnessed something unusual.

On October 2, 2015 village witnessed large gathering from local government officials, member from NALCO and local politicians. NALCO is a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU). With solar energy powering the village, it brought a slew of lifestyle improvements for the citizen.

But this celebration was short lived. There was no mainteneace of the mini solar plant, specifically after the hard hit cyclone Fani in 2017. At that time over 60 households were connected to the grid and now this mini solar energy plant remains non-operational.

WHEN SOLAR LIGHT UP BARAPITHA

Barapitha is located near to Chandaka Wildlife Sactuary, almost a kilometer away from Deras Dam. It was established 5 decades ago by the tribes of Hembram, Santhal, Hoe and other settling in the area.

Before 2015, most of the household went to sleep by 5PM to avoid wildlife conflicts in the dark. With electrification via solar energy, the residents could now access opportunities that they didn’t have earlier – with solar street lights, for example, people could venture out of their houses even during the night, they had more time to do household chores, children could study even after it became dark and a sense of safety against human-animal conflict situations and criminal activities prevailed, Bishwanath added.

Further, mobile phones and electrical appliances became common in the village. Bipin Kumar Singh, another resident of Barapitha, said, “Before 2015, the villages hardly used mobile phones and electric appliances. The few households that did have mobile phones would charge them in Bhubaneshwar markets for a fee. Some who had televisions and chargeable lights had batteries at their homes but most others at that time were using oil-based lanterns for their work at night,” Singh told Mongabay-India while adding that these practices changed after the solar power project was introduced.

NOW THE SHEEN OF SOLAR IS GONE

Within three years of the installation, the solar power project collapsed and since then it has not been repaired again. Villagers claimed that during cyclone Fani in 2017, the system collapsed and the batteries also became defunct.

The resident blamed non-maintenance and lack of training provided to them, behind the failure of the solar system. India has been focusing on large solar power projects as well as decentralised solar solutions to take power to distant areas. However, issues such as poor maintenance and absence of follow up from administration have created situations where such projects are becoming defunct.

Barapitha is not the only village in India, where the decentralised solar energy model failed. In Bihar too, in the state’s first model solar village, Dharnai, defunct solar batteries were never replaced, making the whole system a failure after three years of its operation. In both the cases of Baripatha in Odisha and Dharnai in Bihar, lack of maintenance is the primary reason that solar power has not survived.