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Monday, 9 May 2016

Two Women Sarpanchs Fight the System to Make Safe Drinking Water Accessible in Kashmir

Women in certain remote parts of rural Kashmir have to walk for miles before they can reach a safe drinking water source. Trying to ease their burden and ensure they have easy access to safe potable water are Kulsooma Begum and Raja Begum in Baramulla district.

Ensuring safe drinking water for her “sisters” in the village and, consequently, easing their workload has, so far, been ‘mission impossible’ for Kulsooma Begum, 37, the Deputy Sarpanch of Hamray-Pattan in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Despite her best efforts, in the last four years since she came to power, she has only managed to get the water pipelines laid under the local Wussan water scheme.
According to Kulsooma, overcoming the inactivity and poor coordination among the various concerned government departments has been a tough challenge.

Although the sarpanch did accompany her once as she tried to reach out to the officials, their general indifference was not palatable to him and he decided to leave the task in a very determined Kulsooma’s capable hands.

“At times officials rebuked me,” she says, adding that they had to approach them several times before making any real progress. “I know it’s difficult but then getting anything done in the remote rural areas is anyway an uphill task,” she adds.

Of course, there’s a lot that still needs to be done before the women can enjoy the basic right of access to drinking water at their doorstep but Kulsooma is hopeful that very soon she would be able to fulfil her poll promise.

“The Public Health Engineering (PHE) department had laid the water pipes a year back but nothing has moved since then. I have been following up with the authorities but my efforts have not yielded any concrete results yet. I am highly concerned because this issue is mostly related to us (women),” she says candidly.

Women in her village have to travel a few kilometres everyday to collect water. “It’s very tedious, time-consuming and takes a toll on the health,” she says. Women set off on their daily water errand very early in the morning. Though there are a few tube wells and dug wells in the vicinity the water from these sources is reportedly contaminated.

“Under compulsion, people also consume water from the kul (stream) nearby but it is dirty as it has become a dumping ground for the waste,” explains Kulsooma.

As water is needed for several household activities like bathing, cleaning and washing, besides consumption, the women have to sometimes make more than one trip to be able to get what they need.Women in certain remote parts of rural Kashmir have to walk for miles before they can reach a safe drinking water source.

Unfortunately, more often than not, children, especially girls, have to be roped in to help out with this tiresome chore before they go to school. Consequently, they end up wasting precious time and losing out on their studies. “They reach school late and their studies suffer,” points Kulsooma, adding that till date, there have been no visits conducted by the district officials to their area to assess and address their concerns.

So far, success has eluded her but, amazingly, this has not eroded the local women’s faith in her abilities to make things happen. Indeed, they are willing to back her up 100% when it’s election time next year.

Several kilometres away, Raja Begum, Sarpanch of Palhallan ‘D’ is facing a similar situation. Popularly known asaapa (elder sister) in her village, Raja Begum reveals that she has been fighting for the availability of safe drinking water in her area for many years. She has tapped nearly every power centre she could get access to but she has not been able to resolve the issue up till now.

“One may think that a sarpanch has many powers but that’s not really the case. Development work happens when block officials are ready to work together. My experience has not been good. No one listens to us. We are an ignored lot,” she emphasises, while sharing that a few years back they had managed to get a water reservoir built near their village but not a filtration plant, which is an essential facility. “What is the use of having a reservoir when the water is unusable?” she asks.
The absence of a filtration plant in the area is a serious setback. According to Raja Begum, there is lot of iron in the water, which renders it unsafe for drinking or cooking. However, they make use of it for various domestic activities.
Carrying heavy loads of water on treacherous mountain paths is dangerous for women.
“There have been some fatalities in our area due to consumption of this unsafe water,” she informs gravely, adding that people do face several other related health problems including hair fall and skin problems. “Even the utensils in which we collect the water get discoloured; there is kind of coating of iron. Just imagine what it would do to our bodies? We have approached everyone who we thought could be helpful, but to no avail.”

The residents resolutely confirm that the contaminated water has an adverse impact on them and they face innumerable health concerns on account of the lack of potable water. They further attributed government apathy and negligence responsible for it.

“Many a time we have come out on to the roads to press for our demands. Though the authorities have promised us action, nothing concrete has been done on the ground till date,” rues Abdul Jabbar Wani, a resident of Palhallan ‘D’. He adds dejectedly that the government hardly bothers about them even though the condition there is so grave that they have to “think twice even before taking bath with this water.”

As is the case in the rest of the country, in Jammu and Kashmir too, it’s the Halqa panchayat, or the gram panchayat as it is referred to in the state, which acts as a bridge between the administration and the people. Its eight-odd members – the numbers vary between 7 and 11 – are not only responsible for implementing state welfare schemes but also for providing competent guidance and governance. Elected women representatives like Kulsooma Begum and Raja Begum are trying to make a difference in spite of the many hurdles that come in their way.

Nasir Ahmad Lone, Block Development Officer (BDO), Pattan, concurs, “Women Panchayati Raj representatives are very active and they work more efficiently than their male counterparts.” Referring to Raja Begum, he says that she has played a big role in the development of her village, particularly in the construction of vital infrastructure such as roads, drains, toilets, and so on. He adds, “She is not hesitant to approach me for some work or the other nearly everyday.”

Hakim Tanveer, District Panchayat Officer (DPO), Baramulla, points out, whereas grassroots women elected representatives do approach and interact with him it’s not all that frequent. Nonetheless, when they do, it’s all about assisting people to secure their entitlements.

“Usually, they discuss various local issues confronting them and are keen to solve problems related to schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan,” he elaborates.

Today, Kulsooma and Raja may be greatly regretting their unfulfilled promise – after all, they had come to power in the village on the basis of the assurance of providing potable water – but the women in their hamlets are not ready to give up on their aapas because they believe that it’s their best chance at being heard and considered by the powers that be.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

This 10-year-old boy spots a bug on Instagram and becomes the youngest hacker to be rewarded by Zuckerberg

A 10-year-old Finnish boy has received a USD 10,000 reward from Mark Zuckerberg for spotting a bug in Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram, becoming theyoungest hacker to receive a cash reward from the social media giant for hacking its own products.

Despite the fact that he is too young to register an account on Instagram or Facebook, Jani, the Helsinki-based boy genius discovered that he could infiltrate Instagram and demonstrate the hack without even logging into an account.

According to Finnish publication Iltalehti, Jani (whose last name has not been released) discovered that he could alter code on Instagram’s servers to force delete users’ comments and captions

I would have been able to eliminate anyone, even Justin Bieber, Jani told the publication.

A Facebook spokesperson told Forbes that the bug was fixed in late February and awarded Jani USD 10,000 in March. According to the spokesperson, the loophole was found in a private application programming interface that was not checking whether the person deleting the comment was the same user who posted it.

The USD 10,000 prize is a part of Facebook’s Bug Bounty programme that offers rewards to White Hat hackers and researchers who find bugs or glitches in their digital infrastructure, including Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. The programme has reportedly received over 2,400 valid submissions since its launch five years ago and has awarded more than USD 4.3 million to over 800 researchers.

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Reason Why This 28-Year-Old Is Cycling across India Should Inspire Every Indian

An environmentalist from Uttar Pradesh is on a year-long cycling tour of the country. His mission? To spread the message of a Swachh Bharat – a cleaner country. This is how he’s doing it.

Sixteen states, approximately 10,000 villages, and more than 14,300 kms — this sums up the journey of Abhishek Kumar Sharma so far. A 28-year-old environmental research scholar, Abhishek is currently on a year-long cycling tour of India. His reason for being on the road for the past ten months is indeed unique.

This Uttar Pradesh resident wants to spread the message of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation among common citizens all over the country.
And since spreading awareness is not something that can be done from the comfort of one’s home, he is doing it from the ground level up.

Abhishek Kumar Sharma
“I saw that our Prime Minister has started such a big campaign. More than anything else, I look at the campaign as a very big opportunity for all of us to create a cleaner and better India,” says Abhishek, who started the cycle tour after being inspired by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

A post graduate in environmental science, Abhishek has about three years of work experience as a researcher in solid waste management. Armed with all the knowledge that he had gathered through his research work and education, Abhishek decided that he could use it to educate other people too, and make them more aware about the importance of and urgent need for a cleaner country. Thus, after quitting his job and failing to make his family understand why he wanted to do this, Abhishek set out on his journey on Nov. 10, 2014.

He calls it the ‘Uncertain Journey: Cycling across India for Change.’

The cycle

The first step, even before the journey started, was to modify his bicycle. It is now equipped with an LED light, a poster with his name and phone number, an Indian flag, a flag that talks about his mission, a bottle carrier, and a carrier for his luggage. He started his journey from his hometown, Fategarh, in UP. After that he went on to cover the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala. And now, Abhishek is in Tamil Nadu.

“I am trying to change the mindsets of people, because unless the mindsets are changed, we will not be able to make our country healthy. This is my moral responsibility for India and I am fulfilling it,” says the passionate young man. And for this purpose, he has decided to dedicate a year of his life to a campaign for Swachh Bharat, choosing a bicycle as a medium to promote the benefits of cycling as well. “It is very good for health and also for the environment,” he points out. He will conclude his journey in November 2015, and he aims to cover a distance of 20,000 kms by then.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Marketer-entrepreneur-chat show host: Vinay Bharadwaj found his inspiration in personal loss

What would a man need if he were doing well, both professionally and personally? To answer that question, you night need to know his story a little better. Well, Vinay’s story has its ups and downs like any other. But what sets it apart and makes it interesting is how he chose to write it.

Vinay Bharadwaj, a 32-year-old marketing professional, works for an international bank in Singapore, is happily married, and follows his passion for fashion. From the outside, it seems he lives the life anyone dreams of. But Vinay chose to go the extra mile – not for money, but for passion. He wanted to discover people who have had it tough, and yet made a mark, and bring their stories to the wider world. And they came – to talk with Vinay. His chat show ‘Let’s Talk with Vinay’ has already profiled stalwarts including badminton star Ashwini Ponnappa, singer Raghu Dixit, counsellor Anna Chandy, designer Prasad Bidappa, actress-singer Vasundhara Das, and cricketer KL Rahul.

Vinay with Ashwini Ponnappa
The ‘Let’s Talk With Vinay’ show is available on Youtube as he did not want to sell it to any TV channels. “If I can cover cost of production and marketing, I am more than happy. I am not doing this show for profit,” he says.

To inspire with a story

Vinay’s guests give a recap of their stories – their beginnings, struggles, their support system…. Vinay does not believe in scripted interviews; the conversation connects at an emotional level. For instance, instead of talking about her numerous accolades, Vinay asked Ashwini Ponnappa about how she felt when she lost a game for the first time.

As much as we all crave victory, it is the losses that make us who we are. A year ago, Vinay lost his grandmother whom he was close to. Immediately after, his mother passed away from cancer. His father’s leg got amputated –all within a span of 54 days. In fact, the trauma affected him so much that the first guest in Vinay’s show was Dr B S Ajay Kumar, founder of HCG Hospitals. He was Vinay’s mother’s oncologist. Vinay says that if one person went to get checked up for cancer after watching this episode, he is content.
Story behind the story

A friend had introduced Vinay to a Kannada movie producer, who later rejected Vinay’s idea for the show. “Even though they asked me to rework the concept, I am glad I did not. Otherwise, it would have been over in five episodes with movie stars. I wanted the conversations to be intellectually sound,” says Vinay.

Vinay Bharadwaj
Vinay’s wish was a talk show unique in context and guest list. But he does not live in Bangalore, does a full time corporate job, and has no contacts in the industry. Then how would he go about getting guests on his show? “I have had to make 1,500 + calls to get it done. Vasundhara Das became the first one to come on-board, and very soon I reached a point where I didn’t have bandwidth. If I do another season for Bangalore, I have at least 20 names ready to go,” he smiles.

A college lecturer, who is a part of the industry, gave Vinay the confidence to push forward with his dream. The first investmentfor the show was a loan from a friend, after 35 sponsors rejected Vinay’s idea. He started working on it from September 2015, and the shoot happened in December in Bangalore. A true Bangalorean at heart, Vinay chose his hometown for the first season as he believes that Bangalore has a lot of diversity. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw was the last guest for the Bangalore edition, and the episode is set to come out on June 3. 

Joyful multitasking

Vinay completed his MBA at the University of Wales, UK, following which he started working at the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But the entrepreneurship bug had bit him long before that. “I started giving tuition to a three-year-old kid in my neighbourhood at the age of 13. I have worked as a freelancer for India Bureau of Market Research when I was in college.”

In June 2104, Vinay started a designer wear label, Shinayele, along with his childhood friend Shilpa Ajith. He wishes to embed South East Asian culture & tradition into the designs. “I wish to romance the heritage of every part of India and marry them to the designs,” he says.

Vinay has also given inspirational talks at many colleges in Bangalore – including MES, New Horizon and GIBS. He is planning to a documentary on eye donation to create more awareness.
How does he manage juggling time? “Where there is a will, there is a way,” he smiles.

Vinay with Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, MD, Biocon Ltd.

Next with Vinay

Out of the 20 episodes for the show’s first [Bengaluru] season, 15 are already out. Shooting for the Chennai edition is taking place in May ,with celebrities like vocalist Padmabhushan Sudha Raghunathan, oncologist Padma Vibhushan Dr V Shanta, edu-epreneur Madhuvanthi Arun, singers Kartik and Srinivas, entrepreneur Upasana Kamineni, classical pianist Anil Srinivasan, et al. Vinay dreams of making his show international by interviewing prominent personalities from South East Asia.

Vinay’s support pillars are his wife Prajna, brother Vishnu, and best friend Shridhar. What is his success mantra?

Go give a try for whatever it is that you want. Even if you fail, at least you won’t regret 20 years later that you should have tried.

There are two kinds of people in the world: one who works for someone else’s dreams, and the other who follows Vinay’s mantra.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Orphan Girl Who Ran Away From Abusive Aunt Now Adopted by Collector of Dungarpur, Rajasthan

Chhaya Pargi had lost her parents when she was quite young, and had moved in to live with her paternal uncle and aunt. However, she soon ran away from there, after her aunt attempted to kill her with a farm tool. The nine-year-old from Ambada Kochri in Dungarpur (100 kilometres south of Udaipur) was found unconscious on the road by some Child Line members; they took her to Muskan, a child shelter in Ghati Mohalla, Udaipur.

The District Collector of Dungarpur, Surendra Kumar Solanki, heard this story during one of his inspections. His heart went out to the innocent girl who had been subjected to such trauma and sorrow. He set an example for the entire district by adopting the orphan girl.

Surendra Kumar Solanki with Chhaya Pargi
According to Times of India, Solanki has undertaken all of Chhaya’s educational and personal expenses. He started out by appointing a local guardian for her – Abha Mehta, Principal of District Institute of Education and Training (DIET). Next, he ensured that the formalities for enrolling Chhaya into an English-medium school were taken care of.

In a heart warming conversation with the young girl, Solanki asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. Chhaya’s eye lit up as she said she wanted to become a teacher. This only strengthened Solanki’s resolve to get her the best education possible.

“Chhaya is the administration’s daughter now,” he has said. He has made a detailed study of how children are kept in orphanages and also made a note of the sanitation, water and kitchen facilities of shelter homes in his district. Authorities have been instructed to make sure they are run and maintained efficiently.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Meet India’s Only Woman Tunnel Engineer. She Played a Key Role in Bengaluru’s Metro Project

Annie Sinha Roy, a 35-year-old resident of Bengaluru, is India’s first and only tunnel engineer.
And she played a key role in the development of the 4.8 km east-west underground stretch of Namma Metro, between Cubbon Road and Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru – the first underground metro line in southern India.

Coming from a middle class family in North Kolkata, Annie wanted to pursue her masters after studying mechanical engineering from Nagpur University. But she lost her father and needed to take up a job to support her family. In October 2007, she took a job offered by Senbo, a contractor with Delhi Metro.

She joined Chennai Metro in 2009 and then went to Doha in 2014 for six months. In May 2015, she joined Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRC) as an assistant engineer.

“There were about 100 men, most of them labourers and a few engineers. They thought I would not last long. There were no toilets, no place to sit and debris all around,” she told The Times of India about the time she walked into the construction site of Delhi Metro on the first day of her job.

Today, she says that tunnelling is her life and she spends eight hours in tunnels every day. In Bengaluru, she alone steered Godavari, the tunnel boring machine that was used to finish boring underground from Sampige Road to Majestic.

Annie, a proud woman in a male-dominated career, has been breaking stereotypes since a long time now. Even when she had to go to Doha for a job, her visa application was rejected thrice.

“My visa application was rejected thrice by Qatar because they do not allow unmarried women to go and work there. But the fourth time, I fought it out with them,” she told TOI. Her advice to women in the country is that they should break stereotypes and work in more such professions.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Ramu to IAS Ramesh: The Story of a Disabled Bangle Seller Who is Now an IAS officer

From selling bangles to becoming an IAS officer – who says hard work and determination don’t pay off? This is the inspiring story of Ramesh Gholap. 

Ramesh Gholap, known as Ramu in his village Mahagoan in Barshi district of Maharashtra, was a bright child. His father Gorakh Gholap ran a cycle repair shop, enough to provide an income for his family of four, but the business did not last long as his health suffered from constant drinking.

It was then that Ramu’s mother Vimal Gholap started selling bangles in nearby villages to support the family. And though Ramu’s left leg was affected by polio, he and his brother joined their mother in her little venture. Ramu and his brother would yell out loud, “Bangde ghya bangde (Buy bangles!),” and their mother would help the women try them on.

As Mahagaon had just one primary school, Ramu later went to stay in Barshi with his uncle to study further. He knew education was the only way out of the poverty his mother and family were facing, so he worked as hard as he could.

Ramu receiving a prize after winning a competition in Class 6.
Ramu’s sincerity and dedication made him a star among his teachers. But, in the year 2005, when he was in Class 12 and his college model exams were going on, he got news of his father’s death. The bus fare from Barshi to Mahagaon was Rs.7 those days. And since he received a bus pass for the disabled, the fare for him was just Rs. 2. But Ramu did not even have that. His neighbours helped him with the money and only then could Ramu go for the last rites of his father.

Just four days after his father’s death, Ramu had a chemistry model exam in his college. On his mother’s insistence he went and appeared for the exam but, after that, he skipped the other model exams. He did not even submit his journals. The final exam for Class 12 was just a month away when he received a letter from his teacher that he had scored 35 marks out of 40 in chemistry. The teacher wanted to meet him. With help and encouragement from his teacher, Ramu took his final exams and scored 88.5%.

Ramu chose to do D.Ed (Diploma in Education) in spite of scoring so well, because this was the cheapest course he could afford to do to get a job as a teacher and support his family. He completed his D.Ed and also pursued a graduate degree in Arts from an open university simultaneously. And finally, he was able to start working as a teacher in 2009. This was like a dream come true for his family. But, deep down, it was not what Ramu really wanted to do.

Ramu lived with his mother and brother in a small room provided by his aunt, who had got her two-room home through a government scheme called Indira Awas Yojna. He saw his mother making visit after visit to government offices to get a house for herself too under the same scheme, but she was turned away because her BPL (below poverty line) card wasn’t eligible.

Ramu was angry with the ration shop owner too, who sold kerosene in the black market instead of providing it to needy families like his.

He had already been through the frustration of seeing his father not get adequate attention when he was admitted for tuberculosis in a government hospital. He saw his mother and other widows being manipulated by an officer who collected money from them and made false promises to get them their pensions.

Ramesh with his mother, Vimal Gholap.
During his college days, Ramu had been a member of the student’s union and consequently had to go thetehsildar’s office often to get approval for various college issues. He saw the tehsildar as being the most influential and powerful government official he had ever come across. Ramu decided he wanted to become a tehsildar too in order to solve all the problems he and his family faced.

In September 2009, he took the first step towards his dream. Using the loan that his mother had taken from a self-help group in his village, Ramu went to Pune to prepare for the UPSC exam, taking a leave of six months from his job.

“I did not even know the meaning of MPSC and UPSC since I had always lived in small villages. I did not have money to take coaching classes either. So, the first thing I did was to meet one of the teachers of these coaching classes, just to understand if I was eligible to take the UPSC exam. The first teacher who met me was Mr. Atul Lande. I requested him to write down the answers to a few of my questions, like what is UPSC, can it be taken in Marathi, am I eligible for it, etc. And he told me there was nothing to stop me from taking the UPSC. It is only because of that one statement that I finally did it,” says Ramesh Gholap.

Ramu appeared for the UPSC exams in May 2010 but unfortunately didn’t make the cut. In the meantime, he had also formed a political party with the help of some friends in his village of Mahagaon to fight the local panchayat elections. His mother stood as a candidate for sarpanch. The mission of the party was simple – to come to power and help the distressed. On October 23, 2010, the results of the panchayat elections were out. Ramu terms this date as the biggest turning point of his life in his autobiography, Ithe Thambne Nahi (I Won’t Stop Here).

Ramu’s mother, Vimal Gholap lost the elections by a few votes but the loss did not break Ramu. Instead, it gave him the strength to stand up and fight back again against the system. On the same day, he announced in front of all the villagers that he was leaving the village and would come back only when he became a powerful officer.

After this, no one could stop Ramu. He left his job and cleared the State Institute of Administrative Careers (SIAC) exam – this gave him a hostel to stay in and a stipend as scholarship. He painted posters to take care of his expenditures. And finally, this son of illiterate parents, who studied in a zilla parishad school and by correspondence with open universities, cleared the UPSC examination with an all-India rank of 287, without any coaching.
Ramu was selected for the IAS in the year 2012. And, as per his promise, he came back to his village on May 12, 2012, after finishing a long journey from being Ramu to becoming Ramesh Gorakh Gholap, IAS.
Celebrations in Ramesh’s village when
he came back after becoming an IAS officer.
In the next couple of months, the MPSC results were also out and this time Ramu broke all records. He topped the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) exam in the year 2012, scoring the highest ever marks of 1,244 out of 1,800. Ramesh Gholap is now posted in Jharkhand as Joint Secretary in the Energy Department.
Ramu to IAS Ramesh Gholap
“Mala swatala shikta nahi aala pan porala khup shikwaycha asa tharwila hota…Aaj majha mulga itka motha sahib zalay he baghun khup anand hoto…pang fedala porane (I couldn’t get an education but I had decided that I would educate my sons. Today, my son has become such a big officer and that makes me so happy…. my boy has returned all my debts!),” says Vimal Gholap.
Ramesh Gholap has given more than 300 informational and motivational talks to youngsters aspiring to take the MPSC or UPSC exams. He is also fulfilling his dream of helping the poor and distressed through his work.

Ramesh helping a child labourer
“Whenever I cancel the licence of a PDS shop owner who has been black marketing kerosene, I remember my days when I had to turn off the lantern for lack of kerosene. Whenever I help a widow, I remember my mother begging for a house or for her pension. Whenever I inspect a government hospital, I remember my father’s words when he had left drinking and just wanted better treatment. He would ask me to become a big man and take him to a private hospital. Whenever I help a poor child, I remember myself, I remember Ramu,” says Ramesh Gholap, IAS.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Bangalore’s Rain-Catcher: The man who never paid for water

Monsoon rains in Bangalore may help raise water levels in dams that supply water to the city. But there is one man in the city who is unhappy.
“We should learn to keep the rains in our homes,” says A.R. Shivakumar, senior fellow and principal investigator- RWH, Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Shivakumar has his reasons. With Hesaraghatta lake, a manmade reservoir, and Tippegondahanally reservoir drying up, Bangalore’s entire population(urban and rural) has to depend on the Cauvery waters. Karnataka can draw only 682.5 million litres a day of Cauvery waters which it shares with Tamil Nadu. But the requirement for just Bangalore (urban and rural) is 1,400 million litres per day or 18 thousand million cubic feet (TMC).
“To meet this 18 TMC limit, rain water harvesting is the answer,” says Shivakumar. He put his beliefs into practice and tested the concept in his house 19 years ago. “Shivakumar believes your house should give you a return on your investment,” his wife, Suma Shivakumar says. “He managed to build this house for Rs 400 per square feet when the norm was Rs 600 per square feet in 1994,” she says.
Shivakumar has not had to pay a single penny to the corporation for water in the past 19 years.
“First, we listed the requirements for a house: energy, good comfort living, air, water,” he says. “We found to our surprise that the answer is with nature and not with the KEB (Karnataka Electricity Board), BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board), etc.,” he says.
He sat and mapped the water consumption by an average family by analyzing the water bills of residents in the locality. He found that it matched WHO norms — a family for four would use approximately 500 litres of water per day, which resulted in 1.825 lakh litres of water consumed every year.
After analyzing the water bills, Shivakumar dissected the rainfall data of his 40X60 plot for the past 100 years. “To my surprise, I found we were getting 2-2.5 lakh litres consistently in the last 100 years,” he says. The plot got 2 lakh litres even in the worst year of rainfall.
There is one catch: It rains 60-70 days in a year but the water should last for 365 days. Shivakumar found that the longest gap between two good rains was 90-100 days. “Within three months, there’s a good rain in Bangalore,” he says, “And if you take the daily consumption of a family, it is almost 400 litres of water per day and multiplied by 100, you need storage of 40,000 litres to meet the times when there is no rain.”

Rain water harvesting has almost come to mean ground water recharge for most Bangaloreans, where they send the rain water to the ground, but for Shivakumar it is just the beginning.
First, he built a roof tank with a 5,000 litre capacity. On the ground floor, he built another 5,000 litre capcity tank, which catches most of the rain water – no other tank catches rain water as this tank. On his portico, he built the biggest tank of 25,000 litre capacity, and then building his garage two-and-a-half feet above ground level, he built another 10,000 litre tank.
Each tank has a pop-up filter, which Shivakumar has a patent for. It is marketed as the Rain Tap Pop-up filter in Gujarat. This filter removes all the mud, muck and other particles from rain water. The overflow from the tank goes to the portico tank, which ultimately sends it to the garage tank. The garage tank is the only tank that uses electricity to pump water to the roof tank.
The entire house runs on the ground floor tank, which has a capacity of 5,000 litres, whereas the portico and garage tanks serve as storage tanks for water when there is a gap in rainfall. He also ensures appliances like washing machine reuse waste water.
Shivakumar has trained several architects and contractors to integrate such water systems in new constructions. In peak summer, at least five to seven tankers ply every hour in upcoming suburbs like Ramamurthy Nagar.

A water tank usually sells 4,000 litres for Rs 300-500, but when there is a shortage, the price goes up as high as Rs 900-1,600. Shivakumar estimates that there are about 13.5 lakh houses similar to his in Bangalore. If even half of them were retrofitted with water storage systems (it can cost about Rs 30000-50000 per house), Bangalore may never face a water shortage. And what goes for Bangalore goes for other cities in India as well.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

The call of home made this US-returned entrepreneur revive Kashmir’s apple industry

The famed Kashmiri apple – that luscious, crispy, juicy fruit, which envelops the entire Valley – is one of the prettiest vistas nature has to offer. Undoubtedly, the mainstay of the state’s economy, last year (2015-16), apple production touched 19.43 lakh metric tonnes, contributing to 65 per cent of Kashmir’s horticultural economy. The numbers itself are a testimony to how fundamental this fruit is to the rural economy. However, while the high production rates are definitely something to be delighted about, there is another side to the story as well.

Of the total produce, a mere 35 per cent qualifies for export quality as opposed to Europe, which exports nearly 80 per cent. Furthermore, approximately 10-25 per cent produce gets wasted due to lack of storage and processing facilities! In this scenario, how will the state, which has ambitiously set itself a target to increase the current Rs 3, 000 crore apple industry by five times in the next five years, achieve its numbers? Even if we keep this aside, the produce’s export quality and wastage have been the subject of an unhappy debate for decades now.

An epiphany, and he’s back with no plan
Khurram Mir, Founder of Harsha Naturals
Khurram Mir, 34, left Kashmir after high-school with a love for numbers, which took him to US. Equipped with a management degree in operations research, Khurram worked for almost five years in consultancy. He says, “I was a critical contributor in the organisation. Yet, I was dissatisfied because I was veering towards grassroots development and was unable to find a starting point.” Khurram started exploring the energy sector, something he had always found fascinating. But, somewhere along the way, he realised food was more important. And when his peers and mentors suggested that he go back to the Valley and start something meaningful instead of exploring an unfamiliar country, he packed his bags and came back – without any plan, and this time with a love for numbers, food, and Kashmir.

I told myself if I could create a vibrant economy in a conflict-zone; that in itself would be a great start. I was willing to fail young and gave myself a year to explore.

Starting up – Harsha Natural’s becomes the Apple of the Valley

Back in Lassipura district, an hour-and-a-half from Srinagar, Khurram started exploring the apple industry and its underlying problems. It helped that his father himself was a farmer, and one of the biggest fruit and vegetable traders of the region. Through his father, Khurram interacted with many farmer families and understood how the apple industry is suffering because of lack of storing facilities. This was leading to two things – wastage levels were increasing, and farmers were forcibly selling their produce at decreased costs. He says,

On an average, it takes 45 days for an apple to reach the consumer after it’s plucked. It has lost 15-20 per cent of its water content, becoming a soft fruit. It’s not a Kashmiri apple anymore.

So, in 2008, Khurram started Harsha Naturals with an aim to focus on the post-harvest aspect of the apple industry and set up a 2,000 MT cold storage facility. A ground-breaking initiative in the history of Kashmir’s apple industry, this meant that farmers could now store their produce in Khurram’s controlled atmosphere storage (CAS) facility.

Harsha Naturals’ Controlled Atmosphere Storage (CAS) facility
This is advantageous because – Once the apples are pushed in to the facility, they literally go into a coma for 7-10 months. A customer consuming the apple after 7 months of being plucked, would feel as though it was plucked a few hours ago. The freshness, juiciness, water and nutrition content remain intact.
Farmers no longer have to forcibly sell their produce if the market is showing signs of slowing-down or if there are political disruptions, which means farmers have to incur exorbitant costs to be able to push the produce outside the state as logistics suppliers are known to take undue advantage. They can decide when they want to sell and to whom.

Even though Khurram managed to bring international facilities to the heart of Kashmir, the first year of Harsha Naturals saw only five farmers availing this facility. Khurram says, “It was scary, I have to admit. But, there was no giving up.” Khurram then diversified the company’s offerings. Along with the CAS facility, he started offering farmers automatic sorting, grading, and packing of the apples, completely eliminating manual labour. He also introduced infrastructure that would help in efficient ripening and waxing of the apples, ready for sale. And finally, Harsha Naturals tied up with biggies such as Reliance Fresh, who would directly buy the produce, eliminating middle-men as well.

A farmer plucking apples from his harvest
Today, Harsha Naturals has grown from just five farmers to a consortium of 4, 000 farmers and boasts an 11, 000 CAS facility. In the last seven years of the company’s existence, farmers have seen an increase in net profit of between 15-60 per cent. Khurram has clearly created a dent in the apple industry.

Tackling the root cause – Root2fruit

While Harsha Naturals was picking up, there was a lot more to be done, something that Khurram was always aware of. Khurram says,

Post-harvest is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the pre-harvest, which if tackled well, can transform Kashmir’s economy. Our apple yield is just one-sixth that of the US or Europe.

His idea was to increase the yield four fold and double the quality, so the farmer’s revenue increased six-fold. So, sometime in 2012, Khurram joined hands with Dr Abdul Ahad Sofi, Kashmir’s first doctor in Pomology who headed Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH). Dr Sofi handpicked a team of 20 experts who researched for two years across Europe to identify new orchard varieties that would suit Kashmir’s agro-climatic conditions. In 2014, the team set up a two-hectare model orchard in Kokernag village with eight different varieties of apples.

A high-yielding apple orchard
Khurram proudly says, “In just a year-and-a-half, we have our first harvest. Under normal circumstances, it takes at least a decade.” Through Root2fruit, Khurram is helping farmers build high-quality and high-yielding orchards. At the moment, they are in a position to supply around 60, 000 trees and the annual plan is to establish 10 new orchards across the state so that farmers can see first-hand the impact, and how increased quality and yield is possible.

Connecting farmers and consumers – Farm2U

Khurram’s love for numbers never left him, so he created an ERP solution under his brand, ‘Farm2U’. It’s a simple traceability concept connecting farmers and the buyers, infusing transparency. Khurram says, If a Bangalore-based customer buys a 2 kg Farm2U pack, it will have a code, which can be entered in our online system allowing the consumer to understand the farmer’s geographic location, contact details as well as how much money he made from the sold pack.

It boosts the farmer’s and consumer’s confidence in us, leaving no room for corruption.

An employee carrying a Farm2u packaged box of apples
To make Harsha Naturals, a 360˚ solution, Khurram also started InnoFinance – a farmer-centric financing model that works in a tri-partite setup comprising the farmer, bank, and the organisation.

It is clear that Harsha Naturals has introduced a series of innovations and is in the middle of reviving Kashmir’s apple industry. But what sets this one-stop shop apart is the flexibility it offers – farmers can chose one or all solutions.

Khurram’s impact on the apple industry

Thanks to Khurram’s introduction of CAS facilities, three more units have sprouted in the last few years (all initiated by local entrepreneurs), totalling the capacity to 22, 000 tonnes.But what Khurram is actually doing is setting up a world-class facility that can be replicated in other states such as Himachal Pradesh, the second-largest producer of apples or any fruit and vegetable industry nation-wide. Khurram says, In the US, 90 per cent fruits and vegetables go through processing facilities whereas in India, it’s less than one per cent.

Many lessons along the way

One can’t let Khurram leave without him giving us a few entrepreneurial lessons. So here they are –

1. Approach everything with an empty cup – “How will anyone pour anything in a cup that’s full”?

2. Respect Kashmir’s emotions – “Kashmir has been under conflict and turmoil ever since it was created. The people have and continue to go through a lot every day. We need entrepreneurs who can teach people how to survive and undo the intellectual and emotional bankruptcy we are reeling under. We need people who can empower our kids to work in a way so that tomorrow, when we die, they can proudly say, we were taught to thrive.”

3. Be persistent – There will be 99 people who will create obstacles in your journey. But there will be that one person who will push you ahead, who will be ready to give you a shot. An entrepreneurial journey is about finding that one person. Today, when I look back, I myself am an accumulation of many such people who put their bets on me.

4. You grow when you’re stretched – “Unless you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never know what you’re capable of. Keep pushing your boundaries.”

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

नौकरी छोड़ी, कार बेची और जुट गए स्वच्छ भारत मुहिम में...

स्वच्छ भारत अभियान के तहत लोग अपनी अपनी कोशिशों में लगें हैं, लेकिन एक शख्स है जो लोगों को ये बता रहा है कि चलती कार से ना थूकें, केले के छिलके या चाय के खाली कप बाहर ना फेंकें। इस शख्स का नाम है अभिषेक मारवाह। इतना ही नहीं कार से चलने वाले लोगों को महत्वपूर्ण सीख देने के लिए अभिषेक ने एक खास तरह के कचरे का डिब्बा डिजाइन किया है जिसे कोई भी अपनी कार में बिना किसी दिक्कत के रख सकता है और कूड़े को कार से फेंकने की जगह उस डिब्बे में भर सकता है। बार बार इस्तेमाल होने वाले इस डिब्बे को वो अब देश के कोने कोने में पहुंचाने में लगे हैं।

पेशे से इंजीनियर अभिषेक मारवाह ने दो साल तक विभिन्न कंपनियों में काम किया। करीब चार साल पहले उन्होंने एक किताब में पढ़ा था कि जो व्यक्ति कचरा इधर-उधर फेंकता है वो वास्तव में मानवता पर ये कचरा फेंकता है। ये बात अभिषेक मारवाह के दिल में घर कर गई थीं। इसलिए वो जब भी कहीं बाहर होते तो टॉफी के रैपर, चाय के कप और टिशू पेपर जैसी दूसरी चीजों को सड़क पर फेंकने की जगह गाड़ी में या अपने पास रख लेते थे इसके बाद सही जगह पर उनको फेंक देते थे। इसके अलावा उन्होंने महसूस किया था कि वो जब भी दूसरे देश में जाते थे तो हर चीज का इस्तेमाल सोच समझ कर करते थे और बेकार की चीजों को इधर उधर नहीं फेंकते थे, लेकिन देश लौटते ही उनके अंदर की ये सोच गुम हो जाती थी। तब अभिषेक को लगा कि अकेले ही सही उन्हें अपने आसपास के वातावरण में साफ सफाई का काम करना होगा।

अभिषेक ने देखा की अक्सर काम में लोग सफर करते हुए काफी कुछ खाते पीते हैं और उस दौरान सारा कचरा सड़क पर फेंक देते हैं। ऐसे में क्यों ना कुछ ऐसा किया जाये जो लोगों के लिये ना सिर्फ सुविधाजनक हो बल्कि वो अपना कचरा सड़क पर भी ना फेंके। इसके लिए उन्होंने लंच बॉक्स के डिब्बे में थोड़े बदलाव कर एक कचरे का ऐसा डिब्बा तैयार किया जिसे गियर के साथ लटकाया जा सकता है। लोगों में सफाई के प्रति जागरूकता लाने के लिए अभिषेक ने खुद एक वेबसाइट बनाई और सोशल मीडिया का इस्तेमाल किया। अभिषेक ने बताया कि कैसे उनका डिजाइन किया कचरे का डिब्बा गाड़ी में रख बेहतर इस्तेमाल किया जा सकता है। इस दौरान लोगों से मिली प्रतिक्रिया काफी चौकाने वाली थी। इस दौरान इनको पता चला कि लोग ये नहीं जानते थे की कार में कचरे का डिब्बा रखना कितना जरूरी है। इसके बाद अभिषेक ने अपनी नौकरी छोड़ दी और लोगों को ये समझाने में लग गये कि अपने आसपास साफ सफाई कितनी जरूरी है। अभिषेक का कहना है,
“अगर हम अपनी कार से बाहर कचरा ना फेंके तो सड़क का करीब 40 प्रतिशत कचरा हम कम कर सकते हैं।”

लोगों में सफाई के प्रति जागरूकता लाने के लिए अभिषेक स्कूल, कॉलेज और कॉरपोरेट ऑफिस में अब तक कई सेमिनार कर चुके हैं। इसके अलावा दिल्ली में होने वाले ‘राहगीरी’ जैसे कार्यक्रम और विभिन्न शहरों के नगर निगम को अपने साथ जोड़ने का काम कर रहे हैं। अभिषेक के मुताबिक 
“जब कचरे का डिब्बा हम अपने टॉयलेट में रखना जरूरी समझते हैं तो क्यों नहीं कार में उसे रखते।” 

इसलिए अब इनकी कोशिश कार के अलावा ऑटो रिक्शा में भी कचरे का डिब्बा रखने की है। फिलहाल ये इसके डिजाइन पर काम कर रहे हैं।

अभिषेक ने कार के लिये जो कचरे का डिब्बा डिजाइन किया है उसमें से केले के छिलके की बदबू कार में नहीं फैलती, उसमें चाय का कप रख सकते हैं। वो खास तरह की प्लास्टिक का बना होता है जिसे धो कर दोबारा इस्तेमाल किया जा सकता है। आज इनके डिजाइन किये इस कचरे के डिब्बे की डिमांड देश के विभिन्न हिस्सों से आती है। अभिषेक का कहना है कि स्वच्छ भारत अभियान का हिस्सा बनने के लिये लोगों का ये मानना होता है कि एक हाथ में झाडू होना चाहिए और उसके लिए कोई खास जगह चाहिए जहां पर ये काम किया जा सके, लेकिन हम फैसला करें कि हम कार से बाहर कचरा नहीं फेकेंगे और सफर के दौरान पैदा हुए कचरे को हम तब तक कार में ही रखेंगे जब तक उसे फेंकने के लिए सही जगह नहीं मिल जाती, तब भी हम वास्तव में स्वच्छ भारत अभियान का हिस्सा होंगे। उनका कहना है, 
"लोग अगर इस तरह अपनी आदतों में थोड़ा थोड़ा बदलाव ला सकें तो हमारा देश भी साफ और सुंदर हो सकता है।"

अभिषेक के मुताबिक देश में ही नहीं बल्कि विदेशों में भी लोग ये नहीं समझते कि कार में कचरे का डिब्बा होना कितना जरूरी है। वो बताते हैं कि दुबई जैसे शहर में कार से बाहर कचरा फेंकने पर कड़ा जुर्माना है, बावजूद इसके वहां के लोग नहीं जानते कि कार में कचरे का डिब्बा होना चाहिए। इसलिए उनका मानना है कि लोगों के बीच जागरूकता की काफी कमी है। अभिषेक के मुताबिक उनके डिजाइन किये इस कचरे के डिब्बे को कोई भी वेबसाइट, व्हट्सऐप के जरिये केवल 235 रुपये में ऑर्डर कर सकता है। इस कीमत में डिलीवरी लागत भी शामिल होती है। 

अभिषेक के मुताबिक, "इस काम को शुरू करने के लिए ना सिर्फ अपनी बचत का पैसा लगाना पड़ा बल्कि अपनी कार तक बेचनी पड़ी। मैं एक ओर जहां लोगों में गंदगी को लेकर जागरूकता पैदा करने की कोशिश कर रहा हूं वहीं अपनी वेबसाइट के जरिये लोगों से साफ सफाई को लेकर नये नये आइडिया मांग रहा हूं। अगर कोई आइडिया मुझे पसंद आया और उसका उत्पाद बनाया गया तो बदले में डिजाइन बनाने वाले को उसकी रॉयल्टी देने को तैयार हूं।"