Solar lights installed in various parts of Sunderbans, one of the most energy-deficient regions of the country, are helping in reducing man-animal conflict in the region.
Tigers and other animals straying into villages in darkness is a common incident in the Sunderbans region and there are many instances where villagers have either being killed or injured in the past few decades due to it. To help villagers tackle the problem, the WWF-India took up a project in 2008 of installing solar lights in the Sunderbans region and the blocks covered under the project were the forest fringes of Kultali, Basanti, Gosaba and Hingalganj. The sites were selected in consultation with the state Forest Department and based on WWF-India’s field team surveys on tiger and other wildlife straying incidents and depredation of cattle.
To ensure security of the installed solar systems, WWF-India provided one home light connection to each of the individual households who were the immediate beneficiaries of street lights thus, making them accountable and ensuring safety for the systems. “Since the project started in 2008-2009, around 120 solar lights have been installed. After they were installed, our reports say not a single tiger straying incident or conflicts in these specific locations have taken place,” Ratul Saha, Landscape Coordinator, WWF-India told PTI.. The funding for the entire project till 2014 was done by WWF, Aircel and Woodlands.
“Tigers would frequently visit our village under the cover of darkness. I am already a victim of man-wildlife conflict; my husband was killed by a crocodile. The street light installed in front of my house has reduced straying incidents. The connection at my household also helped me in my work with the Zari fabric,” said Shakila Bibi, a resident of a village near the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve.
According to WWF officials, after the installation of solar lights the local self-government will take responsibility of the systems. According to Saha, apart from helping in reducing man-animal conflict, the solar lights have also helped in improving the socio-economic conditions of the area. “Other than reducing man-human conflict, it has helped in increasing income in various families as they are able to work at night time,” he said.
For 36-year-old housewife Siuli Mondal, the solar lights have helped her double her monthly income as she can do her Zari embroidery work at night. “The work of Zari embroidery helps me earn living for my family. I used to sell the embroideries for Rs 200 and I could work on two sarees a week as my activities were restricted till day light. But, now I am able to work on five sarees per week as I can work at night too,” Mondal said.
Sixteen-year-old Radha Baidya, a student of Pathar Para village, one of the most marginalised villages in Sunderbans, too has benefited from the solar light systems. “After dusk, due to unavailability of proper light I couldn’t study, but now with a solar light connection, I can study for long hours at night,” Baidya said.