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Stories from the Field: Hirekotnekal

The following snapshot is the seventh in a series of stories from the Electrifying Households and Schools project, which is a yearlong project that is supported by the Applied Materials Foundation. The project aims to address gaps in end-user financing that limit the ability of low-income and marginalized households to access lighting and energy solutions and also works to provide schools with lighting and other educational aids.

Bisi Bele Bhath, idli, dosa – If you ever come across these south Indian dishes then there is a chance you may have benefited from the hard work of many farmers working in the paddy fields of Sindhanur. Located in the north of Karnataka in the district of Raichur, Sindhanur is a town known for its scenery, especipicblogally its lush paddy fields. But, along with this beauty, comes the lack of electricity.

One of the worst affected villages is Hirekotnekal, a community that lies 40 kilometers from Sindhanur and can be easily accessed using the local bus services. Though grid connections are present, they are not available to all the inhabitants. For those who have a connection, the shortage of power from the grid leads to frequent power cuts. Consequently, residents are dependent on kerosene lamps as their primary source of lighting.

The residents, most of whom do not have bank accounts, have incomes that range from Rs. 3,000-4,000 a month. SELCO and S3IDF approached the local branch of State Bank of Hyderabad (SBH) to finance the solar systems for the residents of the Hirekotnekal. The bank was reluctant to give loans to community residents as none had established credit histories.

The Financial Relationship Team within SELCO, supported by S3IDF, had several meetings with the bank officials to convince them of the credit-worthiness of these customers. Since this was the first time that a village in Sindhanur was going to be electrified using solar panels, the bank manager was shown a demonstration in another community where SELCO had previously provided solar lighting systems. This demonstration helped to convince the bank to finance the systems.

Apart from the covering the transaction costs of convincing the bank to get involved in the project, SELCO and S3IDF also provided the down payment of Rs. 1500 from the Applied Materials Foundation (AMF) funding that was required for the bank to issue these poor customers loans.

Mruthanjaya, who works with the local panchayat, was the first person in the region who decided to purchase solar power from SELCO. “I decided to go for solar lighting after SELCO demonstrated its benefits. Earlier, we used oil lamps and candles to illuminate our house. They were unreliable and didn’t provide enough light for our household needs. Now my children can study for a longer time without being affected by the harmful smoke from kerosene lamps.”

Jayasingh, who works as an agricultural laborer, was influenced by his neighbor Mruthanjaya, and also opted to purchase solar lights. ”When I saw the impact SELCO had made on Mruthanjaya, I also decided to go for solar lighting. Since my childhood days my family and I have only used kerosene lamps. Not only does it provide insufficient light, but it also emits smoke causing burning sensation in the eyes and nose.” The benefit, he feels, is for his children. “After seeing the magic of solar lights I am happy that my children can grow up in a safe, well-lit environment without any worries” he adds emotionally.

By providing the solar systems, SELCO and S3IDF have not only helped improve Hirekotnekal residents’ quality of life, but also built an inclusive system that will enable them to take loans for other purposes in the future.