by Jai Rathod
We started with a trip to the Gujarat Government’s Solar Park at Charanka village in Patan district, some 350 kms from Gandhinagar. Air-conditioned Volvo buses had been arranged for the purpose. What was really interesting to note was that all through the journey I could only see barren lands & wild vegetation along the roads i.e. there wasn’t a lot of population on the way. Yet, and this is the good part, the roads were extremely good and smooth. In fact, the roads were exceptionally good wherever we travelled – wide, smooth and made of tar which is preferable any day to concrete. Coming from Mumbai where you can’t even drive a kilometer without being tossed around by a pothole, it was a pleasure.
Moving on, make-shift air conditioned halls had been set up at Charanka for the inauguration of the biggest Solar Park in Asiawith more than 600 MW having been commissioned so far.
The Solar Park saw quite a bit of attendance from the developer community. The atmosphere created was meant to promote the well being of the state from the Modi perspective and saw a lot of posturing from the dignitaries and speakers.
The halls were packed with more than 10,000 people in attendance, far exceeding estimated numbers of 4000. What was good to see was the large number of villagers coming in not only from Charanka and surrounding areas but also from other areas such as Sabarkatha, Banaskatha etc. where private developers have bought land and are developing solar projects.
The locals are playing an important part in the setting up of these projects and it was encouraging to see the administration bringing them all under one roof and showing them what was possible in their villages as well. Such a transparent approach is also a far cry from the hush-hush and opaque land acquisitions that generally are the norm in this country and builds a sense of trust between the administration and the local villagers while also educating them on what the project is all about.
There were a large number of dignitaries present at the inauguration including the Consul General of theUnited States, Peter Haas, Gujarat Minister of State for Energy, Mr. Saurabh Patel, Principal Secretary, Energy and Petrochemicals,Gujarat, Mr. DJ Pandian and of course, the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. Also present were most of the project developers who have commissioned their projects and were given recognition certificates by Mr. Modi.
Mr. Modi’s speech was full of vigour and passion and he spoke without the use of a written speech. He spoke of how Gujarat in the year 2000 had only 50,000 ha (hectares) of agricultural land under drip irrigation while today the number stands at an impressive 7,00,000 ha and that while the rest of India struggles with 3% annual growth in agriculture, Gujarat agriculture is growing at more than 10%!
Given that Gujarat is generally referred to as a “dry state” (pun not intended) this is very good going. He also mentioned that in the year 2000 AD, Gujarat’s electricity production was approx. 8000 MW. Today Gujarat is a power surplus state with more than 17,000 MW of power generation capacity. He also spoke of the benefits that the people of Charanka have seen because of the solar park. He said that in a place where villagers struggled to earn Rs. 50 / day, today it was difficult to find labour even at Rs. 300 / day. Similarly, land prices have escalated and this has obviously benefited everyone. He also mentioned that the decision to award Solar Power projects at rates as high as Rs. 13 / unit was taken as part of a larger vision of the Gujarat government to ensure clean energy for future generations 40-50 years down the line when fossil fuels would either run out or be extremely expensive.