For Orissa villagers Shah Rukh is a hero, not just a star

By Byomakesh Biswal

Bhubaneswar, Sep 14 (IANS) Laxmi Mondal of Banhipal village in Orissa's Kendrapara district has never watched any of Shah Rukh Khan's movies, as the village has been without electricity all these years. But for this poor village woman the Bollywood actor has turned into a real life hero by lighting up their lives.

Shah Rukh has funded a solar power harnessing project which provides light to the village after sunset.

"There is no electricity in our village and we don't expect it to be provided by the government in the near future. So the electric lanterns have become very handy for us. Though we used kerosene lanterns earlier, they couldn't be relied upon due to the brisk breeze throughout the day as our village is just a few kilometres away from the Bay of Bengal," said Mondal.

Banhipal is not the only village which is a beneficiary of Shah Rukh's largesse. There are six other villages - Ahirajpur, Okilapala, Palachua, Rangani, Denlasahi and Gupti in Kendrapara district which have benefited from this solar harnessing project which has been fully funded by Shah Rukh Khan.

The project is part of the Greenathon initiative of NDTV called 'Lighting Billon Lives'. Technical assistance has been provided by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

Each village has been provided with about 50 solar lanterns with a single charging point. The lanterns are charged every morning through solar panels set on rooftops.

The charging of lanterns, distribution and collection of money are mainly manned by women members of the village.

Though Shah Rukh has borne the installation cost, the maintenance cost is taken care of by the villagers themselves.

"We have a corpus to meet the running expenses of these lanterns. We raise the corpus by charging just Rs.2.50 from every villager. We charge extra if one takes the lanterns for use during festivals and special occasions. And if a person from a neighbouring village takes it then he is charged Rs.10 per night," said Biraja Prasad Pati, of Nature Club, a local NGO which implemented the project.

These villages are primarily small clusters of Bengali-speaking people. The villagers use these lanterns not only to light their homes but also for other purposes.

"We use these lanterns for different purposes. Our men take these lanterns to scare away wild boars during night as they often destroy our standing paddy. The fishermen take these lanterns for fishing during night and our children study with these lanterns," said Urmila Modal, from Okilapala village, adding that they often give these lanterns free of cost to meritorious students of the village.

Apart from these seven villages, Shah Rukh's generosity has helped in bringing light to two other villages - Jadapala and Tarajodi in Mayurbhanj district of the state.

(Byomakesh Biswal can be contacted at byomakesh.b@ians.in)

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