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Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
& Dhiraj Nayyar

Another green soldier, Noor Jehan, featu ed on Mann ki Baat for her eff rts to popularise solar energy for domestic lighting. The Prime Minister happened to watch a TV feature on the fifty-five-year-old resident of Beri Dariyawan near Kanpur, who made her living by renting solar lamps to 500 households in the village for the bargain price of `100 a month.

A widow o twen y-five years standing and illiterate to boot, Noor Jehan had struggled o care for her seven children on her paltry earnings as a field hand. The village did not have electricity, which meant that studying and daily household chores came to a halt at sunset. Kerosene lamps were a fire hazard. She was introduced to solar lamps by an NGO, Shramik Bharti, in 2012. With their help, she set up a women’s gr up to make the lamps and a solar power unit equipped with panels to charge them.

The Prime Minister decided that her entrepreneurship deserved a mention, which he did on 29 November 2015: ‘There is a woman, oor Jehan, in Kanpur. Watching her on television, it seemed that she did not have a chance to get an education. But she is doing something which no one would have thought of. She is utilising the energy of the sun to illuminate the houses of the poor. She is fighting darkness and bringing light…. See what the big people of thhe world do for climate change. Maybe Noor Jehan c n ct as an inspiration…Noor Jehan means the light of the world.’

The lady of the (solar) l mp told media persons and political workers who flocked to her house after the Mann ki Baat progr mme that the Prime Minister’s on-air encomium was a morale booster. She now hopes to scale up her operation as the village is still not electrified and hundreds of children cannot study at night.

Another envi onment-related effort which d ew the Prime Minister’s attention was water conservation by farmers in Hiware Bazar in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. The small hamlet had earned the title ‘Village f Millionaires’ after its water conser vation efforts boosted farm productivity and made the denizens of the village prosperous.

The Prime Minister came across a co uple of articles on Hiware Bazar and commented on his 24 April 2016 show: ‘One can find many villages where there is a desire to conserve water. At Hiware Bazar, the armers tackled the issue by changing the cropping pattern. They decided to give up cul ivation of those crops that require a lot of water, like sugarcane and banana. It sounds very simple, but in reality it is noot so. What a big collective decision this must have been…they have taken to such crops like fruits and vegetables that require much less water. Farmers in this village have taken so many initiatives such as using sprinklers, drip irrigation techniques, water harvesting and water recharging, that t day their village is strong enough to cope with the water crisis.’

By 1990, ecological degradation had left Hiware Bazar with only 12 per cent of their fields fit for farming. Through creation of water bodies, regeneration of forests, water conservation structures such as contour trenches and a shift in the cropping pattern, the village effected a dramatic turnaround. Today, farmers in thhe village have an annual income of `10-12 lakh and many of the families which had migrated to seek their livelihood elsewhere have come back. So impressed was the Prime Minister that apart from talking about the village on Mann ki Baat, he invited Sarpanch Popatrao Pawar to tea. On the same programme, the Prime Minister congratulated the farmers of Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, for creating water bodies.

Grade X student Mallamma of Gangavathi, Karnataka, featured on Mann ki Baat when she went on hunger strike for a toilet in her house. The gram panchayat had a toilet constructed within the week. The Mehtre family of Junnar, Maharasht a, came in for a laudatory mention when they presented guava saplings to their wedding guests, instead of the t aditional coconuts and garments. Railway stations embellished with murals by tribal and local a tists, like Hazaribagh, Sawai Madh pur and Matunga and Khar in Mumbai, also received a mention.

The pr gramme is notable not just for its reach, but for its participatory nature. Citizens are encouraged to suggest themes and topics or Mann ki Baat. Pawan Acharya of Alwar in Rajasthan, for instance, asked whe her he Prime Minister could make a pitch for using earrthen lamps (diya) on Diwali, to help the environment and provide employment to potters. Sure enough, on 29 September 2015, the Prime Minister told Mann ki Baat listeners: ‘I request citizens to follow Pawan’s advice in the coming festivals. If we do so, then the lamp will be lit not only in our homes but will illuminate the homes of the poor.’

An insightful communicator who has a whole lot of issues to talk about has imaginatively converted Mann ki Baat to a Jan ki Baat, literally. Take the example of Gayatri, a grade XI student from Dehradun, who wrote to the Prime Minister expressing her outrage about garbage being dumped into a river she passed on h r way to school every day. The Prime Minister responded on his show, saying, ‘Look at the agony of this young daughter, a class XI student. How enraged she is by seeing the river strewn with trash. I consider this to be a good omen. This is exactly what I want—th t 125 crore countrymen be angered by filth.’

The January 2017 Mann ki Baat focused on education, because several people had written in asking for his views on the prev iling marks-oriented, highly competitive and stressful examination system. His reply was unequivocal: ‘Marks and mark-sheet serve a limited purpose. Life is not confined to these only…. It is knowledge that is going to be of use to you in life, as a e skills, self-confidence and determination…if you concentrate and focus only on getting marks, then you gradually go on limiting yourself and confine yourself to certain areas f r earning more marks. Thus, while you may find that despite bec ming brilliant in passing the exams, you have sometimes failed in li e.’

(The above article is taken from recently published book
‘The Innovation Republic’.