It was in his independence day speech delivered from the red fort in 2015, that PM Modi pledged to electrify 18,500 such villages, which had no electricity even after 68 years of freedom, to be electrified within the next 1000 days. The government claims to have electrified 14,000 of these villages, upto this year. However, the catch is, that even if only 10% houses in a village have a legal electricity connection, the whole village is considered as ‘electrified’, by the government. The reality is that 4.3 Crore homes in India still don’t have electricity, according to the Ministry of Power. And even if houses are electrified at the present pace of 2 lakh homes per month, all existing unelectrified homes cannot be electrified before the next 20 years. In its report, the NITI Ayog has clearly stated that central government’s mission of rural electrification, has failed to improve the situation “appreciably”, and benefits of electrification still haven’t reached more than 30 Crore Indians!
However, Manoj Bhargava, the Indian American Billionaire who was born in Lucknow, India in 1953, has some ‘solutions’ to offer. Bhargava became famous in 2001, for his 5 Hour energy drink. He has now promised to put to use, 99% of his wealth, into research and development of products and services, which can effectively deal with the most critical issues being faced by the world. This year on the 15th of August, Manoj gave a glimpse of what was going on, inside his R and D team’s laboratory. He made it public, how the team has invented low cost devices to make pure water, low cost eco-friendly electricity generators and even techniques for farmers to increase their yields. Bhargav says, “Electricity is a great enabler. It opens all sorts of opportunities related to education, income, entrepreneurship, communication. And yet, nearly half the world still only gets power 2-3 hours per day. Mobile electricity could change things like mobile phones did.” A dropout from the prestigious Princeton University, Manoj was on the Forbes list of the richest Indians in America in 2012.
According to him, the only affordable solution to electricity woes for the rural Indian population is mobile electricity. Working on this idea, his team created a ‘Power Pack’, which can be charged with solar energy. The device has a torch light, a room light, a USB port, and a 12-volts socket, for powering compact electric devices, for eg. A mobile phone. The pack can be charged from regular electric supply as well, by connecting its plug to a wall socket. In areas with power supply of only 2-3 hours per day, one can charge it for using during the power cut. It is also available in combination with the ‘Solar Briefcase’. The briefcase is an easy to use, compact pack of solar panels, which can be used to charge the Power Pack, at any location. The Uttarakhand government led by CM Trivendra Singh Rawat upon hearing about the invention, contacted and enquired Manoj about his 300 Watt Power Pack. On the 8th of October, 2017, expressed obligation to procure 1,00,000 Power Packs to distribute them in villages. It is a great news because more than 60 villages of Uttarakhand don’t have electricity, simply because of their tough mountainous terrain.
But some people have questioned the Rs 14,500 cost of the device, saying it’s high considering that it’s made for poor rural Indian. Manoj replies, “We are trying to provide the ‘HANS Power Pack’ and ‘HANS Hand Solar Briefcase’ at ‘0 profit’ but we don’t want to deliver a substandard product and this is why we have kept the price at Rs 14,500, which I admit is huge for the poor to pay but to think about the brighter side, they won’t have to pay their electricity bill for the next 12 years!” Manoj’s team has been researching on inventing 2 new ‘Rain Maker’ devices which can provide pure water in rural areas and areas with scant water reserves. He claims that crores of Indians, who still have to drink unsafe and unclean water, won’t have to do so any longer, once the product is ready. They are also busy finding substitute for urea based fertilisers. In an experiment, the team has been able to make a fertiliser from waste like dry leaves, green grass, remains of crop yield, manure from animal dung, all in just 18 days! Manoj says with excitement, “The results are stunning. Farmers are seeing higher yields, they’re getting higher quality produce, they’re using less pesticide and less water, their kids are healthier because they’re eating more nutritious food.”
Though hoping that Modi government will encourage him in his endeavour, Manoj rues the difficulty of conducting business in India. He says this at a time, when the government is boasting about the remarkable improvement in India’s ranking, on the Ease of Doing Business index of the World Bank. However, not to be bothered by the issues, he has deployed a team of experts who have been tasked with training people, living in remote villages of Sikkim, on how to use his products. Spreading across India, is what Manoj Bhargava has in mind, for his products. He says, “We are taking one step at a time, right now we need to focus on Uttarakhand and meet their demand for 100,000 units. It’s a long way to go.” The Youth opines that people like Manoj Bhargava, are doing invaluable service to humanity, and giving back to the society, in one of the most effective ways possible.