Need to sync low carbon technologies with developmental plan for villages: Indian legislator

In 2015, for the first time, two Climate Parliament MPs committed to support the implementation of low carbon development plans in their constituencies, targeting key goals such as energy, water, agriculture, and cooking which together can steer development onto a low carbon pathway in rural India.

In Karnataka, Arvind Bellad, MLA, Hubli Dharwad-West and   Pralhad Joshi, the MP from Dharwad helmed this initiative. Both these network members supported a detailed and comprehensive study for a few chosen villages in Dharwad on developing a Low Carbon Development Roadmap focusing on the energy challenges.

Based on the Roadmap, two programmes are getting implemented by partners. In this interview to OneWorld South Asia, Bellad gives us an insight into the project, the current status and the challenges faced.

OneWorld South AsiaCan you briefly introduce us to the project?

Arvind Bellad: In 2015, Pralhad Joshi and I supported a comprehensive study in few chosen villages in Dharwad done by SELCO Foundation, in association with Climate Parliament. This study’s main objective was to assess how and what different clean energy technologies can be introduced in these villages to bring about local area development in the constituency.

The report was presented to us with recommendations highlighting the prioritized technologies which should be introduced in the villages. Since then, we have sought out and finalized different technology partners who will look into the implementation of the chosen technologies.

Our main aim with this project was to assess the key role Legislators can play in promoting low carbon development on ground.

OWSA: Can you tell us more about low carbon development in rural areas and how it is a mechanism to mitigate climate change?

Bellad: Low carbon development is all about merging developmental objectives with those of climate change mitigation.

A large economy like India – being third largest carbon emitter in the world, the focus now is not only to ensure development but, to support development in a sustainable, low carbon manner. Low carbon agriculture practices, forest conservation, afforestation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are practices which can be worked into the developmental plans of cities, but more importantly, in villages.

Our basic developmental needs at the ground level in villages need immediate attention. The idea to amalgamate low carbon technologies into the developmental plan for villages, while exploring various National and State Government schemes for low carbon technologies and utilising them to ensure multiple benefits in rural areas such as basic facilities and amenities – the most important one being reliable and affordable power supply.

OWSA: What is the current status of the project?

Bellad: Based on the recommendations of the study, smooth implementable options and the financial support we have received, we have finalized two technologies for implementation in the first phase.

Household biogas units to replace traditional cooking fuels like firewood, cow dung; this will not only result in lower carbon emissions but will also, improve the health of women involved in cooking.

Secondly, with the proposal to implement solar powered digital education systems in schools – the focus on education sector as rural government schools currently lack multimedia content due to lack of adequate technology and power cuts.

Subsequently, in October last year, over a meeting with Climate Parliament and a couple of implementing partners we looked into a more centralized solar project in two villages of his constituency – Haro belavadi and Kabbinur. Dharwad district as a whole has scope for decentralized solar energy technologies with energy efficiency.

The area receives on average 300 sunny days a year with an average solar insolation of 5 kWh/m2/day. SELCO Foundation conducted a feasibility study and the report prepared by them had been shared with a few CSR organizations, we have heard back from ONGC that they are interested to fund the development of solar village for Haro Belavadi.

SELCO Foundation is currently in the process of preparing a detailed feasibility report and is looking for  a technology partner to collaborate with for the implementation.

OWSA: What immediate benefits can you see for the villages?

Bellad: A major proportion of the population still uses fuel wood, crop residue, dung or kerosene for cooking. Considering the proximity of these villages to Hubli Dharwad, we were dismayed to see that the woman still suffered from the effects of indoor air pollution while they had other amenities such as televisions, refrigerators etc. Providing these households with clean cooking fuel is our priority intervention and we are sure to see an improvement in the health and quality of life in the next couple of years.

Similarly, most of the villages in Dharwad face the problem of frequent and long power cuts daily, the study showed that on average, single phase power is available for 11.9 hours each day, of which 3 hours of this power is available between 6 pm and 10 pm. It is pertinent that we provide reliable electricity to our villages.

As centralized grid extension has not been able to fully address the issue of rural electrification, appropriate renewable energy-based interventions can be implemented – this is where our interest to pursue the development of Haro Belavadi into a solar village stemmed from.

OWSA: How are you planning to fund these initiatives?

Bellad: Our studies have revealed the total figure of biogas units for a 110 households and solar powered digital educations units to be Rs.30,20,000 – though we do have a provision of government subsidy of Rs. 10,00000 for the biogas units. I have been engaging with the Karnataka Grameen Vikas Bank to partially finance the installed of the solar digital education systems under their CSR projects.

Similarly, our area Parliamentarian’s office has reached out to many CSR organizations and connected with Mangalore Petroleum Refinery Limited (MRP) to come onboard as partial financial partners for the implementation of the household biogas units.

We started out this project with the idea to explore the potential to merge schemes like MPLAD, MLALAD and Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana to finance the implementation of the low carbon technologies; we have already submitted our SAGY documents to the government and have accounted for partial financing of the biogas units under the scheme.

SELCO Foundation’s study gave us the estimated total of Rs. 7.2 crores for the development of the two solar villages. Currently, we have ONGC which has agreed to finance the development of Haro Belavadi into a solar village (Rs 3,92,80,000).

So far, we have been fortunate to connect with the right CSR partners who were keen to collaborate on such projects, but as we intend to showcase low carbon development by Parliamentarians as a replicable model there is a need for us to also integrate these low carbon technologies into our district/area development plans and draw funds from there as well.

OWSA: What are the key challenges have faced and those you foresee for this project?

Bellad: In terms of bringing about a low carbon development on the ground, there have been several issues hindering the implementation; one major challenge has been that of obtaining the required finance.

It took us a while to identify the right financial sources, the suitable entrepreneurs who run successful viable business models. There is a need to create viable business models for commissioning of such projects. The challenges we foresee in the continuation of this project is the delay in receipt of government incentives and the intricate administrative procedures which could stall progress.

OWSA: What is the significance of this project – for your district and state? How would you propose to scale up such projects?

Bellad: With a wide reach in our constituencies and as elected representative, we Legislators are in a unique position to help plug certain gaps – like that of financing and implementation of such projects. With this initiative I see the potential for many more interventions in Dharwad itself. Integrating low carbon strategies into district level planning is a practice we hope to promote by showcasing this study to our district officials.

This project has set the ball rolling for us, there are many more such recommendations of the report pertaining to energy efficiency appliances, sustainable agriculture, water management etc, which due to time and financial constraints we were unable to delve into, but hope to in the coming months.

These initiatives also open up a large market for decentralized renewable energy technologies in the state  – promoting growth at the local level.

With the learning over the past year under our belt we hope to showcase such initiatives to our fellow colleagues at the Parliament and the Legislative Assembly as well. The Paris targets India has submitted calls for a paradigm shift in the mode of development in the country, I strongly believe we as Legislators can contribute in achieving this by taking up such initiatives to combat climate change.

The idea is to replicate these initiatives with alignment to the Government schemes to show massive scaling up of low carbon technologies deployment in the country.