01/03/2012, 00.00
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Church in West Bengal promoting renewable energy and solar panels

by Santosh Digal
The Seva Kendra Calcutta, a social service centre of the Archdiocese of Calcutta, promotes low-cost technologies that respect the environment and human health. In rural villages, families have no access to electrical power and have to rely on kerosene, a fuel that is both expensive and highly toxic.
Kolkata (AsiaNews) – The Seva Kendra Calcutta (SKC), a social service centre of Archdiocese of Calcutta, West Bengal, has been promoting renewal energy technology among rural people for the past five years, including solar lamps and low-cost, smokeless fabric that are eco-friendly, easily available and economically viable. The first village involved is Kalidaherpota, in the north of Pargans District, West Bengal.

The people of Kalidaherpota have no electricity. “They depend on small kerosene lamps to light their homes. Because they are kept inside, these lamps expose users to a polluted domestic environment. For Children, this can cause vision problems and reduce the time they can dedicate to their studies. When sun sets, social interaction in the village is restricted as well. The kerosene that is used is rationed, 200 ml per person per week, and expensive, Rs. 40-50 in the open market (US$ 0,75-0,95),” SKC director Fr Regional Fernandes explained.

In fact, kerosene has an impact on families in terms of education, economics, social relations and health, Fr Fernandes said, because “human exposure to emission of carbon dioxide and other gases causes health hazards like pulmonary, visionary and skin diseases”.

“Light plays a great role in the life of people on all levels: health, educational, social, cultural and more. Introducing solar energy, especially light, improves people’s wellbeing,” he added.

Under the scheme, community participation also creates opportunities for cooperation in the entire community through seminars geared towards unemployed youth who are taught how to make solar panels.

Kalinagar is another village that has benefited from solar energy. Like Kalidaherpota, the village of 850 families is not connected to the power grid and its residents have to rely on expensive kerosene. With the help of Caritas India, they were able to buy solar lanterns for Rs 700 (US$ 13) at a subsidised price.

“After we made an agreement with the people of the area, we started the process. We trained 20 youth from the area for a week,” Fr Fernandes said. “They produced 850 lanterns and sold them in three months, earning Rs. 12,000-15,000 (US$ 225-280) each.”

“Children now find their studies much easier as the solar lantern gives them light,” the priest said. At the same time, they are making products for neighbouring villages.

SKC has been giving training and producing solar lanterns for the past six years. It has also trained people in the states of Gujarat, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
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