Men who Matter: Dr. S.P. Gon Chaudhuri – The Son of the Sun God


Wait for thirty more years. For, within the next three decades, the verdict will be out. The verdict, on the battle between fossil fuels and clean, green,” alternative” sources of energy. Fairy tale? Perish the thought, for scientists from around the world are slowly inching towards the high ground of common consensus. Load shedding will then be a matter of the past. Factories and workshops will continue working unhindered with uninterrupted power. The toxic fumes and black cancerous smoke a mere reminder of the days of yore. Happiness will light up the world.

Who doesn’t know for a fact that the world’s main source of energy – fossil fuels – burn to generate a host of pollutants, that are primarily responsible for unleashing the monster of global warming that is baring its poisonous fangs. How long can mankind let this happen?  Generate toxic fumes, that are quietly engulfing mother earth, promising to rob our children off their future? How long, before we turn green? How long before we embrace alternate sources of energies? How long before we look to the sun for our deliverance?

 “Have I been able to communicate what I am trying to say?” Asks Dr S.P. Gon Chaudhuri as he stops for a breather, his benign smile still latching on to the corners of his lips. I was in his chamber at the Alternative Energy building in Salt Lake, hearing the indomitable spirit recounting the story of a life, whose achievements are, that is to coin a term “ suryokoti samarama” . But the bundle of energies, was in no haste for civilities and ready to move. Cut to flashback, thirty years in the past, when it all began.

For, much before earning the distinction of electrifying the Marshall Islands paying heed to the call of the United Nations, he had initiated, in India a “green revolution” of a different kind. The revolution of non polluting electricity. The year was 1983. And this Bengali scientist had for the first time lit up the night in the unsung village of Herma, in Tripura with solar power. Yes, that was the first of its kind in India. He had also harnessed solar power to run a pump for irrigation. The then Chief Minister of Tripura the late Nripen Chakravory was a witness to this “eureka” moment. As was the then Chairman of the planning commission, Dr Manmohan Singh who was so impressed with the young scientist that he entrusted him with the onerous task of introducing non conventional energy sources to the states of the North East. That is how it all began.

Cut to 1989. The late Jyoti Basu, known for his ability to separate the grains from the chaff spotted him. And the son of Ra joined the Science and Technology department of the state as the Principal Scientific Officer. Exactly four years on, he was co-opted to give shape to the state’s Minister of Electricity late Dr Shankar Sen’s dream of breathing life to the Renewable Energy Development Agency. Having accepted the challenge, the sun man’s first port of call were the Sunderbans.

“I remember those days vividly” said the Bengali of the year, 2008. “The year was 1994. I had brought the light, using solar power, to 12 households in the Kamalpur Village in the Sagar islands. And today, 160,000 households depend on solar power in the Sunderbans alone!”

Startled, I ask, what are you saying?

He cuts me short. “Then what will you say when you see India’s first solar housing complex in Kolkata’s New Town? Built in 2007, 25 houses today light up the day and night sky with solar energy…” says the wizard of the photo voltaic, the quiet and contended feeling of achievement lighting up his face the same way the first rays of the morning sun lights up the world.

So what have been your achievements? I ask.

“  I never worked with achieving anything as the goal. For me, the means is the end in itself. The idea is to continue working and I am sure that someday, all this hard work will bear fruit. It should. It must.”

But where is the awareness?

“it’s coming. Yes, the pace is extremely slow, but the right signs are there. Little signs of change, for the better, but signs, non-the-less. You know, it is only from Chaos that God created the Cosmos. One has to wait for the chaos to run its full course, and only then can the cosmos bloom in all its glory. One has to wait till the time comes, till the opportune moment and then things will take care of themselves.”

So you are saying the India’s future is dazzlingly Sun lit?

“yes. For we have created in Asansol India’s largest Solar power plant.”

You are talking of the Disergarh Power plant?

“Yes. That was a DPSC unit, lying mothballed for a long time. I asked them to give it to us and they obliged. We started work in 2008. Today it generates 2 MW’s of solar power per hour. Videocon has sourced this technology from us and is now setting up a 10 MW power station in Purulia. Another plant is coming up in Bonkati in Bankura district that will use rice husk to generate 10 MWs of power. That technology is also ours. Whether it is bio mass or solar, clean energy is being fed into the grid, lighting lives, transforming, ushering in change.

Tell us about the future? What does it have in store for us?

“According to the Prime Minister, the next ten years will see an additional generation of 20,000 MWs of clean, green energy which will come from the sun. I hope that the share of our state will be around 1.5 thousand MW. Which will be a giant step forward for us, and for mankind. “

Just this much, and no more? I ask

There definitely is. Power from rice husks will yield 150 MWs within the next three years. Solar power will contribute another 115 MWs. The share of power generated from wind mill will be in the tune of 50 MWs. Hydel will contribute another 25 MWs. It all adds up to 340 MWs.

And how much of the potential is being used today?

About 80 MWs.

That means, ask and the Green Corporation will provide the technology back up?

Sure. That is why we are here. You want it, were there. The industry wants it, we are there too.

That means that we can expect many more entrants into the field in the future ?

Yes we can. And we will. We will have more industries. More investments. We will generate more employment – we will have more of what I call, green empowerment.

What is the kind of investment that the state has attracted so far?

One thousand five hundred crores. But Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are close on the heels. And it is only desired. Let the country wake up to a new sun drenched dawn. Let the solar renaissance begin.

(the story was originally published in our print version the Core Sector Communique. The interview was taken by Subhasish Chattopadhyay)