To protect the ecologically-fragile islands
of Sunderbans from noise and air pollution caused by motorised 'jugaad' vans,
an alternative public transport model has been built using solar-powered
electric vehicles. Research body 'The Energy and Resources Institute' (TERI)
and Paris-based Mlinda Foundation has developed the new model under which 50
solar vehicles would soon be launched in Patharpratima block of Sunderbans with
consent from the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA).
boost for transport
Locally known as 'Vano', the motorised
rickshaw vans are so far the only form of public transport available for 40
lakh people living in the Sunderbans delta, a UNESCO World Heritage. Assembled
with improvised arrangements, also known as 'jugaad' technology, it is powered
by a diesel engine that uses an adulterated mixture of diesel, kerosene,
naphtha, used engine oil, etc which gives out highly polluting emissions.
Under the pilot project, TERI would roll
out 50 solar vehicles made by Tata Motors along with two solar PV based
charging stations in a fringe island of the Sunderbans. "This electric
rickshaw can accommodate eight people and after getting charged with solar
energy for 4-5 hours at the station, the 20 Ah battery can run for 40-50 kms in
a day," TERI's Parimita Mohanty said. The charging station would be
equivalent of a petrol pump and its 500W of solar module would charge the
rickshaws. Once the project is successfully demonstrated in the first phase,
TERI would engage social entrepreneurs to scale up the model in Sunderbans.
"We want to make it a commercially viable
model as we will ask the rickshaw operators to buy the vehicles," Mohanty
said. The cost of the solar rickshaw would be around Rs 4-5 lakh while the
charging station would cost around a lakh.
"We did a trial study with two such vehicles for three months to
understand how these rickshaws can be run in the region after which we came up
with this model," the TERI researcher said. Besides zero emissions, the
solar vehicles would be noiseless too.
The engines of ‘jugaad’ vans are notorious
for creating noise pollution as they disturb birds and marine life while plying
along the river banks. Home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, the archipelago of
Sunderbans is known for its rich wildlife and mangrove forests. A baseline
study by Mlinda Foundation estimates there are around 19000 such 'jugaad' vans
in the entire Sunderbans.
"The carbon content is very high in the
adulterated diesel they use and therefore these vans are the major source of
pollution inside Sunderbans," Mohanty said. For locals and tourists who
venture into the villages, these vans are also risky and uncomfortable. Absence
of 'pucca' roads is another issue as it is estimated that only about 300 km of
metalled road exists in the entire area of about 4500 sq km of Sunderbans.