Magsaysay award winner Selco’s Harish Hande and Kalpavriksh’s Ashish Kothari @ Indialogues

Harish Hande and Ashish Kothari @ Indialogues
Harish Hande and Ashish Kothari @ Indialogues

Dr. H Harish Hande is the managing director of SELCO-India, which he co-founded with Neville Williams in 1995. Dr. Hande earned his Doctorate in energy engineering (solar specialty) at the University of Massachusetts (Lowell). He has an undergraduate degree in Energy Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur.

The aim of SELCO is to operate and grow a company focused on providing sustainable technologies and energy services to rural markets in India and other developing countries. Collectively their management has over 44 years of grassroots experience in the field of providing sustainable energy services to the under-served. The team along with other staff has proven the fact that there are strong linkages between poverty alleviation, sustainable energy, social business and micro-finance: linkages that are not easily proven to be commercially viable.

Dr. Hande serves on the boards of many organizations, both national and international, and hopes to empower the rural community by providing a complete package of product, service and consumer financing through grameena banks, cooperative societies, commercial banks and micro-finance institutions.


Ashish Kothari began working on environment and development issues in his school days in 1978- 79, as one of the founders of Kalpavriksh, an Indian environmental NGO. He remains active with Kalpavriksh’s Conservation and Livelihoods Programme.

A graduate in Sociology, Ashish has taught environment at the Indian Institute of Public Administration in the 1990s, and been guest faculty at several universities, institutes, and colleges.He has been Co-Chair of the IUCN Inter-commission Strategic Direction on Governance, Equity, and Livelihoods in Relation to Protected Areas (TILCEPA) (1999-2008).He has served on the Board of Directors of Greenpeace International, and currently chairs Greenpeace India’s Board. Ashish also coordinated India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan process.

KALPAVRIKSH is a non profit organization working on environmental and social issues. The group began in 1979 with a campaign led by students to save Delhi’s Ridge Forest. Kalpavriksh believes that a country can develop meaningfully only when ecological sustainability and social equity are guaranteed, and a sense of respect for, and oneness with nature and fellow humans is achieved.

Ashish is the author or editor of over 30 books, and over 250 articles.


For Harish Hande’s complete interaction with youngsters Kindly click here

Why Solar has not taken off?

Wind and pico-hydro, Biogas, solar.. we should look at combination of possibilities. We should look at efficiency. A school came and said can you power 10 computers. Sewing machine needs only 40w, but minimum available is 110w.. are we being efficient? Roof cut and glass placed for pani puri wala…

We need to be very efficient. Rural India is more into solar and unconventional… 300,000 households run on Solar in Karnataka.

Govt not realizing why we should not have tax on solar?

Chidambaram said talk to state. You are providing subsidy and taking back through tax. Should we not make Solar, the way of life?


Ashish from Kalpavriksh

It was started about 32 years back. I was in high school in Delhi. Started as trees being cut, pollution etc. We gave this name because ‘wishwell’, the tree that grants you any of the wishes, in mythology. Nature grants all of our wishes that we live on. Let us protect ourselves by protecting the environment.

I often start with – Oxygen comes from where? Plants give oxygen. One thing on which we really survive, we do not know where it comes from? – Marine algae

Air we breath, water we drink, food that we eat… we do not know where they come from??

When food is grown on land, how many of us really know about that land? We know everything about market, shares, bonds companies, business models; We do not know what we really live on. That is a fundamental point.

We started on environmental issues. Schools are not addressing. We wanted to see what people are seeing and talking. In those days chipko was a happening movement up the hills, women hugging tree when someone cuts. Bishnois started in Rajasthan 300 years ago by 150 women losing their lives when the king ordered to cut trees.

What motivates women to do it at the cost of their lives. Fertility, leaves, enriching of soil facilitate people. In 1983, on a walk along the Narmada river, 1300 kms over two months, we learn that these huge dams, temples of modern India cause far more destruction than create advantages, especially to all the people and adivasis who live on it. It gives advantage perhaps to the urbane but not for rural. We started questioning the idea of development.

In the last 30-40 years, the process called development as a concept evolved. In India WB etc initiated it. Development means opening up, opportunities for people. Development now has come about being only a few percentages. Is there any co-relation between 9% growth and eradication of poverty?

Is it of ecological value. % growth, GDP? 50-60% of Indians do not have electricity, 40-50% go hungry, no clean drinking water.

Four of the top 10 billionaires are Indians but 400mn people do not have anything to eat and drink. Serious deficit, sustaining this population!

India is already using double the minimum needed – Importing timber and palm oil from Indonesia, buying land elsewhere to grow cash crops. Ecological destruction is unimaginable. It has not just had impact on nature, 60mn people displaced due to projects. 700mn people are snatched of their resources. That is the deficit and bad news. Some one has to pay the cost.

Why the eggs have to be of poor people, why not the mine under this building, why only the forest or a adivasi hill.


30 years we have a model of pumping chemicals – that make them depend on corporations and government etc.

Deccan development society in Andhra – dalit women : In the last 30 years they have transformed agriculture with organic and sustainable methods and completely changed the economy of Nazibabad – public distribution system, organic restaurants, reaching the poorest of the poor, social revolution. They have gained confidence, creating social and gender revolution


Govt thinks of big dams. In Rajasthan, Alwar district, 600-700 villages have take up the projects that are collective and have transformed through small check dams. Villagers have come back and agriculture is flourishing.

Ralegansiddhi – Anna created along with other villagers, a model of rural development with internal resources. Reverse migration is happening; people wish to be with families.


India is not a democracy. Once in five years you vote and trust these people sitting in Delhi and Bhopal do something. It is all about capacity to participate every day and impact, that is democracy. We may not use it, but we have the capacity to do it.

In medhalekha, Maharastra, Gonds took this decision. “dilli Mumbai mein humari sarkar, hamari gaon mein hama hain sarkar”. We take the decision on all that impact us in our govt. No government can take any decision that impacts our community and area.

In cities too there are Area Sabhas, we can meet face to face. In pune, participatory budgeting has started. We need the budget to reflect our issues.

We should be able to do these every day.

Putting all of these together, we want alternative to current iniquitous situation. We should be able participate in ecologically and socially sensitive to other species beyond people too.

There are incredible innovations taking place. Energy, housing, water, agriculture, education, health,… amazing work is happening across the country.

Next year onwards we are thinking of alternative mela. We intend to look a lot of innovations taking place.

World will get answers from India, especially in rural spaces.

I agree in whatever you are saying. What does industrialization mean? Even in pre-industry Europe the life expectation is 20-25, now it is 64. People have started living longer. Livelihoods are being taken away.

I do not mean that we should go back to pre-industrial era. Even democracy has been borrowed from modernity, though it has existed in India for ages. In the last 200 years, deprivation and good water, have happened. If we can change these through modern systems is always welcome.

We need to go beyond just an Engineer. We should be good at quite a few things, but great in one. We cannot be doing only one, without thinking of anything else.

Specializations become compartments – it becomes part of the problem than being a solution.

Subsidy for forests and you say goats cannot be grazing there?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s