The Punjab government has initiated the chief minister’s Ujaala Programme to encourage and facilitate low-income students who have performed well academically. The programme hopes to retain children in educational institutes and also create awareness about alternative energy resources. The cost of the programme is Rs2.5 billion.
Under the programme, almost 200,000 students, enrolled in government educational institutions, who have achieved 60% or more marks in final examinations will be awarded Solar Home Solutions (SHS) which include solar panels. The project is being run by the Energy Department, which has provided the SHSs, in collaboration with the School Education Department (which has identified the beneficiaries of the programme). Initiating the programme in the last week of January, the chief minister distributed solar panels to 15,484 students in Bahawalpur division.
“The aim of this project is three-fold; to address poverty, keeping students in educational institutes and tackling the energy crisis by offering alternative energy resources,” said School Education Department Deputy Secretary Qaiser Rasheed.
Rasheed said most of the children studying in public educational institutes were from low and middle income households. He said they had limited resources to access alternative energy resources amidst the current power crisis. “We hope to strengthen their educational aspirations by offering an energy solution. Also, this will help the masses realise the potential of alternative energy resources” he added.
Scientist Dr Naghman Khan said most people felt dependent on the government for their energy needs, disregarding the alternative sources. “It’s unfortunate. They think they can either get power from Water and Power Development Authority or face load-shedding.” Dr Khan has been involved in the alternative energy field since 2004 and is currently visiting faculty at the Government College University where he teaches Energy in the Changing Climate in MPhil and PhD programmes.
He said that the Ujaala Programme would help generate greater awareness about alternative energy resources. “The only thing the average person knows is that solar power is very expensive.” He added that with the SHS units being distributed, people will be able to see and relate to the new technology. For now, Dr Khan recommends that the government also focus its attention towards other alternative energy resources including wind and bio-gas if wants to inculcate greater awareness regarding alternate energy sources.
Solar Home Solutions
The SHS kit being distributed contains a 30 watts-peak solar panel along with a 12 volt battery. The kit also includes three LED lamps/bulbs each of three watts and a USB mobile phone charger. Each SHS kit costs Rs12,500 and is imported from China. The kit comes with a user manual.
According to the list of beneficiaries released by the Energy Department, 181,966 students in 36 districts of the province will be awarded the SHS kits under the Ujaala Programme. Details reveal that 14,968 students in Dera Ghazi Khan, 25,182 in Faisalabad, 31,082 in Gujranwala, 16,408 in Multan, 17,306 in Rawalpindi, 14,612 in Sargodha, 12,644 in Sahiwal and 34,280 in Lahore will benefit from the programme. Another 10,000 students studying in madrassahs will also be distributed solar panels. The list for madrassah students will be prepared by the Wafaaqul Madaris.
The School Education Department had initially proposed a criteria of 50% marks in final examinations for eligibility for the solar panels. Rasheed said the number of potential beneficiaries then came to 300,000. He said the government lacked resources for the large number.
The SED then forwarded a list of close to 200, 000 students. Amongst these some 119,719 were grade 10 students, 7,124 were from grade 12,700 were from the Punjab Vocational Training Centre and the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, 39,313 students were from Colleges, 2,624 students were from Daanish Schools. The SED also handed out solar panels to 6,186 high and higher secondary schools for installation at the campus.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2013.