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Stories from the Field: Electrifying M.M. Hills

MM Hills - DSCN0443The following snapshot is the fourth 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 curtail the ability of low-income and marginalized households’ access to lighting and energy solutions and to provide schools with lighting and other educational aids.

Male Mahadeshwara Betta, popularly known as M.M. Hills, is a hilly area in Chamaraja Nagar district in Tamil Nadu that attracts tourists and pilgrims. Many of the hills feature protected sandalwood and bamboo forests and many species of wildlife. A number of indigenous tribal communities, such as Soligas, Jenu Kurubas, Kadu Kurubas and Kuruba Gowdas, are scattered throughout the forests across the seven hills of the M.M. Hills range. Most of these communities are not electrified and residents spend about Rs.150 – 200 per month on their energy needs.

A majority of the residents in these communities earn income by cultivating Government designated patta lands during the monsoon season. During other seasons, the residents collect non-timber products from the forests to sell in local markets. Some residents have small shops catering to the needs of visiting pilgrims and other local residents who often must walk long distances to reach these shops to access basic goods and to recharge their mobile phone batteries. The average household income in the indigenous tribal communities is about Rs.2500 per month.

MYRADA, an organization that focuses on socio-economic development in underserved areas of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, has successfully mobilized several hundred women’s Self-Help Groups (SHG) over the past 8 – 10 years. SELCO has also been active in the M.M. Hills region and has installed Solar Home Lighting Systems (SHLS) in about 80 households. As word spread about the benefits of the SHLS, residents in other communities expressed interest in purchasing SHLS.

Under this project, S3IDF, SELCO and MYRADA have extended access to additional SHLS to new households and of these, 17 have received financing support. Vijaya Bank, a financial institution in the region provided MYRADA with a loan, that it in turn loaned it to the 17 households through a SHG. However, before the loan to the SHG could be made, additional financing assistance had to be coordinated for the SHG’s down payment, which is required for the loan to be released. The households’ incomes were insufficient to make the down payment outright but the households could make monthly repayments using the amount they saved by no longer paying for kerosene. Using AMF’s financial support, S3IDF and SELCO contributed to the down payment for all 17 households. The households are currently in the process of repaying the loan towards a 2 light system (approximately Rs.8000).