By Vriti Mehndiratta
What does a solar lamp project have to do with a natural calamity that took several lives and devastated the infrastructure across towns and villages? Ask Jigment Tapka, head of Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency (LREDA) and he will tell you that the Leh region in Ladakh has a story of tragedy bringing light at the end of the devastation.
Ladakh is a remote Himalayan region of the northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. One of the most beautiful areas of India and a favorite hot spots for tourists, it was struck with the intense cloud bursts that hit early morning on 6 August 2010 across a large part of Ladakh. That devastated 71 towns and villages, including the main town in the area, Leh. At least 255 people were reported dead, six of them foreign tourists, after a cloudburst and heavy overnight rains triggered flash floods, mudslides, and debris flows. 200 people were reported missing in the initial aftermath of the storm, and thousands more were rendered homeless after the flooding caused extensive damage to property and infrastructure.
While the damage was most extensive with most loss of lives in the semi-slum areas on the eastern edge of Leh and in the shanty towns around the neighboring village of Choglamsar, villages and farms well beyond Lehwere not spared either. Many of the region’s roads, as well as its telecommunications and electricity infrastructure, were damaged. Hundreds of homes and buildings collapsed, agricultural fields were washed out, and irrigation canals severely eroded. Much of the region’s traditional infrastructure was also badly damaged.
Rescue operations were organized by all the communities; Buddhist, Muslim and Christians alike. The Ladakh Ecological Development Group hosted meetings of all the NGOs concerned with relief work. They set up an NGO coordination committee which produced a short paper of aims and objectives. They warned against bringing in inappropriate materials from the outside and wasting money on temporary shelter. Instead, they encouraged a long-term approach – focusing on the construction of permanent shelters using local knowledge, skills and materials wherever possible.
An NGO named ECO SOLUTIONS was working for the rescue operations in Ladakh. It took 32 ECCODIVA lamps from ECCO Electronics of NOIDA and donated them for the relief operations of Ladakh. Somehow, these lamps found their way to the Mr. Jigmet Tapka, Director of Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency (LREDA) a nodal agency for implementation of all non-conventional energy programmes of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India.
LREDA has been working on similar projects to help Ladakh recover from the devastating blow of natural calamites. This agency was working on Solar Initiatives as the communications and electricity were highly damaged due to these flash floods so they tested ECCODIVA.
LREDA took an initiative with Jigmet Tapka in the lead role The credit to contact ECCO goes to Jigment Tapka who immediately ordered 32 more ECCODIVA Lamps and gifted 30 units to Ladakh Autonomus Hill Development Council (LAHDC). the governing body of Ladakh. The council works with village panchayats to take decisions on economic development, healthcare, education, land use, taxation, and local governance which are further reviewed at the block headquarters in the presence of the chief executive councilor and executive councilors.
LAHDC gave this product to the councilors so that they could figure out how it could reach the people who may benefit from it the most. These Councilors showcased ECCODiva lamps to the Sarpanch (village chief) of different villages and they, in turn, took it to the villagers. People really liked the ECCODIVA lamps and preferred this product over the lantern lamps provided by the MNRE subsidy scheme by the government. They requested if ECCODiva lamps could be provided to them under MNRE scheme. But at that time, the MNRE specifications had their constraints and they only had an option of lanterns that could light 360 degrees. ECCO believes that lighting the surrounding is an inefficient way of using light and over the years, our understanding of lighting has evolved to focus on targeted lighting and that it will help if MNRE accepted that approach as well..
Thinking about the need of the people and the pain that they had gone through in these devastating floods, LREDA ordered over 3000 units of ECCODIVA 108 and meanwhile LREDA also tried to convince MNRE through their testing reports that ECCODIVA lamp meet their specifications and being a Multipurpose Solar LED Light is much better than other Lanterns. It also satisfied people’s need and fits well in their environment.
Under ECCO’s policy ECCO asked for advance for 3000 units and as LREDA was trying to make it case to MNRE, the Leh people refused the other solar lanterns. Therefore Mr Jigmet Tapka came with this idea of collecting money from the people and distributing it to the people at the purchase price. The Surpanches collected money from the villagers and when ECCO received the advance the first batch of ECCODIVA 108 was shipped in September 2011.
As soon as the truck load reached Leh, within three days these 3000 units of the ECCODIVA lamp were sold out and the people started fighting for more lamps. Immediately another order of 3136 units was placed and there was a pressure on ECCO to ship these products as soon as possible. ECCO anyhow managed to ship the second lot by November 2011.
Where the people were eagerly waiting for their lamps there was a sudden news that the truck load carrying ECCODiva lamps got stuck near Jammu as the Ladakh roads were closed. It was thought that the roads may open in fifteen days but they did not open at all and the people in Ladakh who were waiting for their lamps thought that they were cheated by their government and asked their money back.
On the request of LREDA, this truck load got air lifted because of the high demand among the people where ECCO also shared 50% of the Air Lifting cost on humanitarian grounds. The interesting fact about the airlifting was that during this period when the roads are closed the cargo only consists of essential items like food and medical supplies. But this time Air India was lifting 200 ECCODIVA lamps per week. The roads opened after May 2012 and after that another 1600 units were delivered.
LREDA now actively participates in the distribution of ECCODiva lamps which works on a sustainable No-Subsidy model. It actively promotes the product using radio and other modes of communication and awareness creation. ECCO has also trained LREDA Technical team and Service agency TRECC to service various types of ECCODivas. These lamps are sold with the help of LAHDC Councilors to end-users at a bulk purchase price negotiated by LREDA.
This was one of the greatest success stories of ECCODiva where the major role was played by Jigmet Tapka, Director of LREDA and Reuben Gergen, Chief Engineer at LREDA. Their efforts brought a ray of hope in the lives of Leh people through an ECCO Product ECCODiva. ECCO Elecronics founder R S Baoni was very proud that through this product solution ECCO could take its first step towards its vision and mission. Baoni said “the success of ECCO’s products is directly related to the people and their need and the biggest success is to achieve an overwhelming response and a smile on the end users face which is more than any cost or profit”. About 30,000 ECCODIVA currently provides lighting and power to over 10,000 families in Leh during the peak winters when there is no power due to rivers freezing!
MNRE Secretary Ratan Watal reportedly tells everyone that the Ladakh project is the only successful solar lighting project in the country.
Ecco Electronics Chairman Satish Jha says that its a unique example of state policy on solar lighting being determined at the grassroots by the people and its a great example of how people can begin to participate in policy making by using the language they know best, that of standing up for what they feel is good for them.