Patna: The much-hyped Solar Charkha Centre in a Bihar village, once a dream project of Union Minister Griraj Singh, has been lying defunct since mid-2019 and has left Gita Devi, Parvatia Devi, Gayatri, Lakshmi and Rani Devi in deep trouble – they are now debt ridden. The five women have one thing in common – they are worried about repaying banks for loans taken to aid them in the project, one that was provided to them to earn a livelihood from.
With the Solar Charkha Centre at Khanwan village in Nawada district closed for months they have no source of income and are under constant pressure from the local bank to repay loans given to each of them to purchase solar charkhas.
It was Giriraj Singh, senior BJP leader and firebrand Hindutva champion, who began the Solar Charkha Centre – a pilot project under the aegis of Mission Solar Charkha – in January 2016 at Khanwan after ‘adopting’ the village under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.
hv started a pilot project on solar charkha training in Nawada & will take it to national level.will engage 6L women pic.twitter.com/grHiqprjN8
— Shandilya Giriraj Singh (@girirajsinghbjp) January 8, 2016
“We had taken a loan from the bank three years ago for the solar charkha. Government officials had said that that the solar charkha would transform the lives of poor women, but nothing of the sort happened. The solar charkha lies shut and we have no income. We are suffering after having taken the loan and bank officials are now after us to repay it,” said Rani.
She recalled that initially, she, along with other villagers, primarily women, were working on their solar charkha and earning between Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 a month from spinning yarn at the Solar Charkha Centre. “It was a big deal for us but it did not last. Our solar charkhas that were given to us on loan are of no use now as the Solar Charkha Centre remains closed. There is no hope for its revival,” she said.
Gita is also worried about the debt, saying it is a challenge to repay it. “Where is the money to repay the loan – we have zero income. We are without any work and fail to understand how to manage. If the centre restarts we will be able to repay the loan. The government should take note of this,” she added.
Gita’s sentiments were echoed by Parvatia. “Hundreds of women like me were rendered jobless after the centre ceased to function. This is a big loss for us as we were told that it will be a model centre and that many such solar charkha centres would come up in rural India to provide people with a means to earn a livelihood, but the reality at Khanwan is different. The centre was closed and we are finding it difficult to repay the loan,” she added.
Rani, Gita, Parvati and others were trained to run the solar charkha at the centre by experts. “We were happy to work and earn a living and the centre was seen as a job provider. However, it soon turned into a bad dream since we have been left in lurch; jobless and hopeless,” Parvatia said.
Mahesh Kumar, a middle-aged man from the village said the centre was set up with much fanfare and publicised as a move to provide job opportunities to women and jobless youths from rural areas. “Like other projects, the Solar Charkha Centre led to disappointment as it was closed down. That resulted in hundreds of people without jobs who were assured of a livelihood from it,” he added.
Kumar said the Centre was set up at Khanwan thanks to Giriraj Singh, the Member of Parliament (MP) who represented Nawada from 2014 to 2019. After Singh shifted base from Nawada to Begusarai, he hardly returned to the centre to check on it. It was he who had publicly claimed that the centre was a dream project.
Several villagers have appealed to Singh in recent months to visit Khanwan and have requested him to restart the Solar Charkha Centre. “Singh has been not showing any interest now as he is no more the MP from Nawada,” said Sambhunath Prasad, another villager.
Singh had tom-tommed the project at Ahmedabad in February 2017 and has repeatedly claimed that it has brought about a big change. “The families in Khanwan, the adarsh village adopted by me, are earning Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 per month with their solar charkhas,” he had reportedly said.
My dream project "solar charkha" is in full swing and giving huge earning opportunities @ Khanwa,Nawada pic.twitter.com/hsBvL509wd
— Shandilya Giriraj Singh (@girirajsinghbjp) December 4, 2016
Belying the ground reality at Khanwa, a Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises’ press release dated from March 5, 2020, claimed: “Based on the success of a pilot project on Solar Charkha, set up at Khanwan village in 2016 which benefitted about 1180 artisans(mostly women), Government of India accorded approval to set up 50 such clusters. As part of the scheme based on the Expression of Interest (EOI), a total of 10 proposals have been approved under Mission Solar Charkha till date which is expected to benefit about 13784 artisans/workers”.
The official release further stated that the scheme is enterprise-driven and envisages the setting up of ‘Solar Charkha Clusters’ which will have 200 to 2,042 beneficiaries (Spinners, Weavers, Stitchers and other skilled artisans). It added that the charkha would help the ‘Green Economy’ as it was an environment friendly programme which would also generate sustainable employment for the artisans.