A Case Study of Community-Based Micro Hydro in Orissa, India: Blueprint Approach versus Learning Process Approach

By Dipti Vaghela.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study investigates how participation of various stakeholders affects the project longevity of micro hydro projects in Orissa, India and its effect on broader goals of renewable energy for sustainable development.

Using action research and ethnographic methods, the study evaluates obstacles and determines solutions to community-based micro hydro projects that are equitably managed and productively used. Tasked to lead the energy program at Gram Vikas (GV), an established rural development NGO in Orissa, India, the researcher uses the dual role of practitioner and investigator to facilitate key stakeholders—village communities, NGO, funding agencies, and technical consultants—to modify the top-down blueprint approach of implementation in order to instill a bottom up learning process approach. The latter embraces failures in order to nurture field level innovation and facilitate management to incorporate end-users and field staff perspectives into their management philosophies. The study examines four projects in poverty-stricken Kalahandi district.

Initial projects used a blueprint approach designed by NGO management. Socio-technical failures in these projects occurred due to over-dependence on NGO staff and external technical consultants. Excessive presence of insecure NGO field staff during implementation prevented the communities from developing communication and leadership structures needed to sustain the project after the NGO exited. Similarly, poor quality hardware, delays, and lack of knowledge-transfer from outside technical experts prevented the communities from acquiring the technical skills required to sustain the project after the consultant left.

Later projects used a learning process approach to evaluate obstacles of earlier projects and form solutions based on local strengths. Instead of NGO staff, local youth were delegated to coordinate field implementation. The community identified the un-employed youth’s effective leadership during initial tasks, e.g. fabricating transmission poles. To alleviate dependency on external technical suppliers, local machinists were trained to fabricate and trouble-shoot the technology.

The solutions resulted in projects with significantly less socio-technical interruptions, allowing opportunity for equitable management and productive use. While sustaining existing projects, the local youth and fabricators are now entrepreneurs that mentor new communities and face new obstacles.

Keywords: Sustainable Rural Development, Rural Electrification in India, Community-Based Renewable Energy, Micro Hydro Best Practices

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.243-262. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.075MB).

Dipti Vaghela

Graduate Student, Environment Studies Department, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, USA

To address climate change caused by fossil fuel based electrification and the consequences of rural-to-urban migration in developing countries, Dipti Vaghela is focused establishing decentralized renewable energy programs for and by marginalized rural communities, using a participatory approach that facilitates beneficiaries to become aware of their strengths and take ownership of their region’s development. Dipti’s interests in using sustainable technology to alleviate drudgery and preserve indigenous cultures in developing communities was triggered by her undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley, her perspectives as a product design engineer in Silicon Valley, and her family’s roots in rural India. In pursuing a MS degree in Environmental Studies at San Jose State University, Dipti is doing applied research on micro hydro rural electrification in Orissa, India.


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