Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.
“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.
“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.
The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines. “But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.
That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.