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This Is India

Water idea!


At a time when many parts of the country are reeling from rain deficit, a group of farmers is using innovative methods to conserve water and boost irrigation in parched pockets of the country. This they do by tinkering with rudimentary tools and contraptions to devise low-cost machinery.

Some of their creations were recently displayed during an innovation exhibition at Rashtrapati Bhavan after President Pratibha Patil expressed concern about the non-optimal use of water during irrigation in drought-prone regions. There is Radheyshyam Sharma from Ujjain who has devised a low-cost selfpropelled mobile irrigation cum pesticide applicator which could help farmers spray their fields with pesticides as well as water trees at the same time. "The sprayer will help conserve water as it directly waters plant roots. It will also cut down on the farmers' labour, " explains Sharma.

Then there is Vikram Rathore of Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh who has filed a patent for a water pump that can be operated by paddling, which he invented when drought dried up his paddy fields. He has neither had an electric motor nor a diesel pump and thus invented a pump that drew water through manual paddling.

Describe it as jugaad or as desperate times calling for desperate measures, but individuals, social groups and even government agencies have been of late experimenting with and adopting low-cost technologies to deal with water scarcity. So, a public-private initiative in Karnataka uses mobile phones to alert citizens about the precise timing of water supply on their taps even as the state government in Maharashtra recently adopted a GPS tracking system for tankers providing drinking water to its 15 droughthit districts with a view to prevent pilferage. Local farmer-devised innovations from the hinterland are also slowly finding a wider national platform.

The seriousness of the water crises was reiterated in the recently released Census 2011 findings. Data revealed that less than half the households in India (46 per cent) have access to drinking water from taps in their homes;the majority thus relies on irregular supply from tankers, community taps or wells. As many as 17. 6 per cent of households have to trek more than 500 metres in rural areas and 100 metres in urban areas to access drinking water sources. Even this could be scarce, given that recent government estimates show that roughly 228 mha (69 per cent) of India's geographical area is classified as dry lands (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid ).

It is in the face of such crises that jugaad in water management is born. Take, for instance, the twin cities of Hubli and Dharwad in Karnataka where most residents - from slums to posh housing societies - receive tap water for roughly two hours of the day, usually once in two to three days. To deal with this uncertainty, the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB) teamed up with social enterprise NextDrop. They jointly created an interactive voice response system to link hydraulic engineers operating the water valves to residents. Engineers contact the system when they release water to a particular neighbourhood and SMSes are generated to residents registered with the project. Citizens usually get a notice - between 30 minutes and two hours - about when they will receive water supply.

The project came about when a Masters student from the University of California, Berkeley who was researching these towns observed that people, particularly women, spent several hours waiting at home waiting for the water supply. For homemakers like Sharda Vishwanath (45) from Vasant Nagar, Hubli the service at a monthly charge of Rs 10 has made a world of difference. "I have got used to their SMSes, it is almost like a morning alarm. Their alerts tell me when I should keep the taps open. Earlier, I was forced to stay home through the day to catch the water supply, " she says.

Anu Sridharan, founder and CEO of NextDrop says that people are willing to pay for the huge convenience. "We have 3, 000 customers and 15, 000 people signed up for future alerts, " she says, adding that they hope to extend the service to 50 cities in five years. K P Jayaramu of the KUWSDB believes such initiatives hold out promise till the city is able to attain a 24X7 water supply.

The National Innovation Foundation, Gujarat, an autonomous body under the department of science and technology, has consistently backed the work of those who deal with problems using small resources and basic intelligence. "Grassroots innovators are essentially those people who have come up with creative technological solutions to persistent problems, without formal training. They decided not to live with problems many others had been living with. They should be duly recognised and encouraged, " says Dr Nitin Maurya of NIF pointing out that many such innovations throw up sustainable solutions to real problems.


As of July 2, India is facing a rain deficit of 31% About 228 mha (69%) of India's total geographical area is under dry lands (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid ) Only 46% of homes in India have access to drinking water within their premises

(Source: 4th national report submitted to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) & Census 2011)


SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) says that women in semi-arid areas of Gujarat spent three to four hours a day collecting water. This time goes up by two hours during summer months. Self-employed women could earn an additional Rs 5, 500 a year if they could be spared just an hour from the chore.

(Source: Human Development Report 2006. Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis)

Reader's opinion (2)

Manish SharmaJul 11th, 2012 at 20:44 PM

Govt. Should encourage such innovators..

Aditya SaraogiJul 9th, 2012 at 11:48 AM

interesting, we all should implement ways to save water

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