The sun has created a flood of business opportunities in the monsoon-mauled Assam.
The deluge this year has so far killed 55 people — five drowned on Saturday — and washed away 521 domestic animals and fowl as 38.37 lakh people across 18 of the 33 districts continue to be affected. The tragedy for most has translated into cash for a few, even non-traders who sniffed possibilities. Among the major beneficiaries are vendors of solar panels and appliances. “The number of solar equipment vendors has increased significantly over the past few months, but the sale of solar panels jumped during the floods,” said Jaideep Baruah, in charge of environment at the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council.
Rahul Amin of the flood-hit Bhaktadaba village in Barpeta district said some traders in areas that usually escape inundation invested in solar panels before the arrival of monsoon in June. “We generally experience long hours of power cuts and there has been no electricity since the floods submerged most houses in these areas more than a week ago. Traders in market areas such as Mohanbazar, Bankhabazar and Manubazar have generators, but many installed solar panels to first charge batteries and let us charge our mobile phones and torches for a fee,” he said.
A trader, declining to be named, insisted he was not cashing in on people’s misery. “It is a service we are providing and we have a right to recover our cost and a little more,” he said.
The likes of Hasanur Alam, who pays ₹10 for charging his feature phone, and Nazrul Islam, whose smartphone entails a charging fee of ₹20, are not complaining. Each charging centre, Mr. Amin said, gets 200 clients per day.
Officials dealing with non-conventional energy said the demand for solar panels had made a few vendors in flood-prone areas sell their wares at a premium. A Guwahati dealer denied the allegation.
Depending on whether it is monocrystalline and polycrystalline, a solar panel of up to 50 watts costs ₹46-73 per watt. The demand is more for panels of capacity ranging from 12 watts to 20 watts.
“Many inmates of relief camps and flood-affected people in makeshift houses on embankments are using solar panels for basic requirement,” said Nayanjyoti Bhuyan, associated with an aid agency. Officials in Nalbari and Barpeta districts said non-traders had also joined retailers in ferrying essentials.
The supplies range from vegetables and eggs to kerosene from the markets to relief camps and flood-affected areas.
A few enterprising youths have invested in synthetic mosquito nets to keep fish alive for selling at a higher than normal rate.