An Indian officer in the World Bank, Dr Emmanuel D'Silva heard of Professor Shrinivasa's work. He arrived in Bangalore rather excitedly. Soon a small team left for the forests in Adilabad, AP, on the border with Maharashtra. The Professor and his lieutenant Mr. A R Nayeem from SuTRA and Dr D'Silva from the Bank were joined by Mr Mukherjee and Mr Navin Mittal of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency [ITDA] in Utnoor. [ Mittal deserves to be especially noted. He had graduated from the IIT with a Gold Medal but then did an unusual thing: instead of flying out to the USA for a charmed life, he chose the IAS as the more meaningful option in life.]
Bettering the lives of the tribals was Mittal's mandate. Soon it became clear to the team what a hard one that is. Listen to Nayeem: "Till Utnoor it was familiar India. But the last 30 km to Chalbardi --a Ghond tribal hamlet of 21 homes-- was another India. Our Jeep crawled over a rock strewn alignment called a road. We walked a part of the way. It is an experience never to be forgotten as the sole reality for many Indians." At Chalbardi they found a tribe of Indian citizens who were grim faced about electricity. They had known it only on their occasional travels out of the woods and had given up hopes of it ever arriving in their village. When the Professor talked of bringing it to their homes in six months, they wearily looked away. When he said that they could pay for it with the abundant Pongamia [Karanji in Hindi, Pongam in Tamil and Honge in Kannada. It is a.k.a Indian Beech] seeds strewn on the forest floor they gazed at him incredulous. He then did the wise thing: he invited them to Kaggenahalli in Kunigal Taluk, Karnataka to see the SuTRA demonstration project. Govinda Rao of Chalbardi, soon led a small curious band.
The Professor marvels: "They made their visit in April, 2001. And they caught the bug. When we went back to Chalbardi two months later, a nursery of 20,000 Pongamia saplings greeted us. Govinda Rao was hustling us: "We can give you the seeds for ever-- when is electricity coming?" "
Lab to land:
If the SuTRA demo in Karnataka was the laboratory that proved the idea, Chalbardi will earn its place as the village that took the idea to an India out there. Two off-the-shelf gensets of 7.5 kva each were installed in a hut. The hamlet was wired. Karanji oil engines powered a decorticator and an oil mill. And in June, 2001, right in the middle of a forest, with no pylons, no pollution, no down-time and no bills to pay, darkness made way to light. People whooped in joy. Children raced round and round. And were delightedly, sternly told that it was time for them to sit down and spend some time learning. This self sustaining miracle cost just Rs.500,000 [$10,000].