Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now a Solar Lamp Scam?

From Mr. Lalloobhoy Battliwala

A few stories on Bihar from last month - fake panels/batteries, $880 PV systems becoming part of dowries, and Teri/Uninor (a newbie telecom company that may be struggling to reach some targets).

The scandal if not a scam is, why is the government giving monopoly to Tata BP Solar and Exide and putting the police and the courts in service of the monopoly?

Or, why are folks wasting (or forcing a bride's parents to cough up) money on "solar systems" for lighting and battery-charging? There's a marketing failure or the established solar industry is vested in the status quo.

Oh, well. I am waiting for the day when a girl's parents would say, "Ok, we'll give her solar lights and a battery TV IF you don't make her cook and she gets to watch TV BUT otherwise, here is a modern woodstove that cooks like gas. We want that for our daughter, and wouldn't you want that for your grandchildren as well?" (Heck, subsidize a few selected brands 50% with one-year specs at a time and for a fourth of the price of the silly "solar system", the new wife can proudly walk in with a gas-like stove, three lights with and without phone-chargers, a battery TV/radio, and a solar charger.)

If nuclear made people dumb, the sun has blinded them. What would it take to get away from "solar" and focus on smart batteries and lighting?


Read More @ Over 200 outgoing village body heads, or ‘mukhiyas’, are in deep trouble in Bihar in connection with a scam in the purchase of solar lamps at a time when elections for 2.62 lakh panchayat posts are approaching.

The chief judicial magistrate’s (CJM) court issued arrest warrants against 227 mukhiyas in Sitamarhi district this week for purchasing solar lamps from unauthorised shops. Now police have been directed to arrest them. All such mukhiyas are absconding to evade arrest before filing nomination papers to contest in the panchayat polls, police officials in Sitamarhi said.

Besides mukhiyas, more than 200 government officials, including block development officers (BDOs), are also under the scanner in the solar lamps scam said to be worth Rs 40 crores.

Sitamarhi Superintendent of Police Rakesh Kumar Rathi said an FIR (first information report) was lodged against 233 mukhiyas in connection with this last year, of whom six died in the last few months.

‘The mukhiyas purchased solar lamps violating government policy. They purchased locally made solar plates and batteries instead of the government approved TATA BP solar plates and Exide batteries,’ Rathi said.

This was not all; the bills for the purchase of 7,000 solar lamp sets were also found to be fake. Ironically, 90 percent of the solar panels stopped working soon after being fitted in villages.

The mukhiyas are alleged to have purchased solar lamps from unauthorised shops and dealers in a hurry, ignoring all the other approved government schemes.

Police found during their probe that the solar panels and batteries had TATA BP and Exide logos but everything was locally assembled inside.

Rathi said police would arrest all the accused mukhiyas and would soon begin to attach their property if they were found absconding.

A senior official in the rural development department in Patna said a similar solar lamps purchase scam may be going on in other districts. ‘In the coming days, the scam will come into the picture from other districts as top officials have been looking into it,’ Rathi told IANS.

Most rural areas in power-starved Bihar reel in the dark and the government’s decision to provide light to villages through solar lamps was seen as positive step. But the scam is a setback, people say.

According to the state election commission, the first phase of the panchayat poll would be held April 20 and the 10th phase would be held May 28.

Also see
@ Hindustan Times, "Solar power, an agent of change"
@ Business Wire India, "Collective Community Building by TERI and Unicor"

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