Breathable air, clean food, electricity, and personal hygiene – these things are basic human rights. Yet in 21st century India, equal access to these is still a distant dream for many.
We look to our government to address these urgent needs, through its national schemes and programmes. But perhaps it’s now time for the government to look to its people for solutions.
Indian entrepreneurs across the country have already developed creative solutions for a sustainable future. And partnering with them could have large-scale benefits. After all, wasn’t it our own Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who called for local innovation while presenting the Union Budget this year?
After air pollution was declared an emergency in Delhi in November last year, it became obvious that something had to be done to contain the problem.
Traffic is a major source of the deadly PM 2.5, but there is a way to stop the exhaust from Delhi’s 97.05 lakh vehicles from winding up inside our lungs. In 2016, a team of innovators at Graviky Labs developed a little something called the Kaalink device.
“Our technology captures these emissions before they could enter air, to make industrial grade ink and paints,” Graviky Labs co-founder Nikhil Kaushik tells YKA. The device fits onto the tailpipes of vehicles and generators, and works a little something like this:
Kaushik says the government’s current efforts are merely “stop-gap emergency responses”. “What is required is a long term policy approach, wherein various solutions are implemented to create a comprehensive response to the menace of air-pollution.”
Kaalink can be adapted for chimneys and other similar pollution sources, and that’s major.
“We are able establish a recycling paradigm which is essential to save the environment from harmful effects of human activities.”
In 2016, India generated 777.506 billion units of energy through conventional sources like thermal plants. A significant portion of this went into domestic spaces, which are the second largest consumers of electricity.
And of all household appliances, the fridge draw energy 24×7. And you can’t just unplug your fridge, right? Well, Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a potter from Gujarat, has created a fridge that doesn’t need to be plugged in at all!
After the 2001 earthquake, a regional newspaper referred to his matkas as “gareebon ka fridge”. That’s when he took up the challenge of designing a proper earthenware fridge. Four years of research and a few loans later, he developed Mitti Cool, which keeps fruit, vegetables, and milk fresh for a week.
“Yeh kudrati tareeke se thanda hua hai (this keeps things cool naturally),” explains Prajapati, “Aur paryavaran ya health ko nuksan nahi karta. (And it doesn’t harm the environment or health)” Prajapati tells YKA that the fridge is even capable of storing insulin injections for people with diabetes, and can also be used in military camps and other power-scarce areas.
So far, he has sold 20,000 units, and his main markets have been big cities like Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad.
While Mitti Cool is the eco-friendly solution that all energy-guzzling city homes need, Prajapati’s goal has always been to serve BPL families. This is also why he has resisted tying up with commercial sellers like Big Bazaar in order to keep his product affordable. But asked if he would consider bringing Mitti Cool to a larger market with the help of the government, he was enthusiastic.
In a country where roughly 300 million people do not have access to electricity, this earthenware fridge can be particularly useful.
Back in 2001, Dr. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, the Dean of Thiagarajar College of Engineering, developed a hybrid road-laying technique that utilised plastic waste.
Dr. Vasudevan explains how plastic waste like carry bags, biscuit covers, Kurkure and Pan Parag packets are first shredded to a 3-4mm length, and then added to stone heated to 170° C. The plastic melts, and it binds and laminates the stone. For every kilometre laid, Dr. Vasudevan says not less than a tonne of plastic is used, and since this process requires much lesser bitumen, carbon emissions are reduced too.
In 2004, his efforts were recognised by Jayalalithaa, who was Tamil Nadu’s chief minister at the time, and since then he says around 20,000kms of his durable plastic roads have been laid in the state. Having secured a patent for these roads in 2006, he said that approximately 1,00,000 such roads have been laid across 11 states in India. All that remains is implementing this technology in the remaining 18 states. And in doing so, Dr Vasudevan reckons India will exhaust all of its plastic waste to cover 41,00,000 kms of roads. “We may need to import plastic waste!” He adds, laughing.
Eighty Eight per cent of Indian women don’t have access to menstrual care products like tampons, pads or moon cups. Adding to that problem is a culture of shame and silence that exists with it. Which is why Arunachalam Muruganantham, an entrepreneur from Coimbatore, set up Jayaashree Industries to manufacture low-cost sanitary pads.
“When women don’t use sanitary towels, two main reasons are availability and affordability,” Muruganantham told YKA. “We found that there is also a third reason – awareness, which is missing among many people.”
Muruganantham’s process uses high-quality pine wood pulp, in place of expensive cotton, to manufacture sanitary pads in 27 Indian states as well as seven other countries. Jayashree Industries has also been a huge help to many women’s self-help groups, creating jobs for 21,000 women.
What’s more is that these sanitary pads are eco-friendly too! Says the 55-year-old Padma Shri awardee: “We only use natural materials, with no chemicals involved. We provide utmost comfort and our product is completely biodegradable.”
These four innovative solutions are already complementing India’s commitment to achieving its sustainable development goals on climate action, universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, and environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste.
And diverse as they may be, there is a common thread that runs between Kaalink, MittiCool, the plastic roads, and Jayshree Industries. All of them are green technologies, that generate significantly lesser emissions than their conventional counterparts.
India aims to cut its emissions by 20-25 per cent (compared with the 2005 level) in the next three years, and these technologies have the potential to not just help the country do that, but also deliver on the sustainable development promises it made to the international community. If India wants to be viewed as a globally responsible superpower, its growth has to not only be fast, but also sustainable. And these solutions offer just that path.
The question that remains to be answered is – Does the government have the vision to take this direction?