31 January 2016 was a joyful day for 45-year-old Sadhna Devi, a resident of Khanwan village in south Bihar’s Nawada district. That day, the prime minister Narendra Modi talked about her on his radio show, Mann Ki Baat. Sadhna had written a letter to the prime minister in January, in which she praised and expressed gratitude to Modi for opening a Solar Charkha Centre in her village. The letter explained how she had been given a charkha—a domestic spinning-wheel—which helped her financially and enabled her to afford medical treatment for her husband. But, nearly five years later, the centre now lies defunct and Sadhna is once again trapped in penury.
The Solar Charkha Centre at Khanwan is run by a Lucknow-based NGO called Bharatiya Harit Khadi Gramodaya Sansthan, or BHKGS. The centre was officially inaugurated in the first week of January 2016, as a pilot project in the Khanwan panchayat, which includes eight villages, under the aegis of the Mission Solar Charkha. According to its website and several press releases by the Press Information Bureau, the mission is an “enterprise driven scheme” that aims to generate direct employment, especially for youth and women, so as to drive sustainable and inclusive growth in rural areas and arrest migration to urban areas. The mission comes under the union ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises.
The mission envisaged setting up of “Solar Charkha Clusters” across the country via an “individual or promoter agency.” It defined a cluster as “a focal village and other surrounding villages in a radius of 8 to 10 kilometers. Further, such a cluster will have 200 to 2042 beneficiaries (spinners, weavers, stitches and other skilled artisans).” Accordingly, based on the apparent success of the pilot project, on 17 September 2019, the ministry approved the setting up of 50 more solar charkha clusters, with an outlay of Rs 550 crore.