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Thursday, 12 May 2016

How these innovators lit up over 500 villages with just pine needles and rice husk

A couple that migrated to the Himalayas would gape in wonder at the lineage of golden-brown pine trees, each taller and more resplendent than the last, which created the most picturesque frame out the window in their new lives. And while they couldn’t believe how breath-taking the scene was at one moment, they couldn’t digest how heart-breaking the situation becomes at immediately the next, when the same pine needles triggered forest fires that destroyed livings and lives all the same, to a hair-raising extent.

Slightly east, in the state of Bihar, lived another boy who studied engineering from a premiere university. He was living out his prime in the situation that would be any millennial’s dream – with a high-paying job that he was not only good at but also loved, in New York city; but even a dazzling Times Square couldn’t shake off a disturbing image in the electrical engineer’s head – his own village back in India, completely in the dark, that continued to be deprived of electricity till that day.

The ironies in both the above cases were unsettling enough for these individuals to take matters into their own hands and initiate- rather, innovate – the change they wanted to see.

The Himalayan horror story with a happy ending:

Rajnish Jain and his wife lived at the OSHO commune and at a point, decided to move out and do something meaningful with their lives, back in 1996. As they settled in the Himalayas, they started getting under the skin of local day-to-day problems in the lives of the low-income villagers. While 85 per cent of villages in Uttarakhand have been granted access to the state electrical grid since 2005, the secluded hilly terrain had poor transmission infrastructure, and experienced frequent power outages, thus making that a very unreliable supply of electricity in the area.

Observing this dearth in the most rudimentary necessities of life in the 21st century, the couple decided to found AVANI, an organisation to provide solutions to various problems plaguing the community. They started off by electrifying 25 villages, with solar power. “But we felt the need to do things differently, because the government was sinking in a lot of money in solar and it wasn’t really working. We wanted to create something where people got the chance to participate personally as well as financially.”

Living in the middle of a forest which was full of pine trees, the couple observed that the fallen needles triggered off colossal forest fires and caused widespread loss of life and property. “Water, fodder, timber, herbs; all got destroyed. These were things that the village is heavily dependent on. We wanted to think of a way that these pine needles can be harnessed to create, rather than destroy. Using gasification –we came up with a technology that processed these pine needles to generate electricity. It was a spellbinding innovation; nobody believed we could do it.”

They set up a 9 KW pilot that turned out to be successful, fully operational, and generated 9 KW of electricity, out of which, 1.5 KW was consumed for running the system and a continuous output of 7.5 KW was available for use. Soon, with the green signal, they established a 120 KW commercial pilot.

The benefits of this energy are manifold. “We are reducing carbon emissions on many counts. First, by churning out a clean fuel, second, by swiftly and timely collecting the needles and curbing forest fires, and third, by reducing the consumption of fuels like kerosene and diesel, which are exhaustible, expensive, and polluting.”

Around 7,500 farmers in the area benefit from reduced threat of forest fires. The locals also earned 20–25,000 which is more than what they can earn through schemes like MNAREGA.

Another great turn of events was that the residue from the biomass was charcoal. “We decided to bricket it and supply it to households for cooking. Women, who would walk at least 4 km daily to collect fuel wood, now received fuel at their doorsteps.

Funding from Acumen’s investment will allow Avani to scale to 20 power plants in the area with each 120 kW Avani gasification plant serving approximately 3,000 people.

When Bihar got a bi-lateral facelift

Manoj Sinha, the electrical engineer hailing from Bihar but living it up in New York, had myriad sleepless nights imagining his own village unelectrified.

“Our country doesn’t have enough power generation capacity; we don’t have excess power. Four hundred million people in India, mostly spread across roughly 125,000 villages, are without electricity, which makes our country one the largest population of unserved people. Twenty per cent of that population resides in Bihar. The supply side of the equation is definitely lacking. Overall, 85% of the state’s residents are not connected to the state’s electric grid. Distribution is also taken for granted for people who get it. They think it is for free; so if a supplier keeps pumping electricity, without getting their due payments, you are bound to withdraw. The vicious cycle thus continues,” explains Manoj.

That was when he decided to think up a solution, albeit keeping his day job. It was when his friend and Co-Founder Gyanesh Pandey quit his job as CEO of a company, that Manoj decided he needed to be all-in, too.

“That was a pivotal point. I could have stayed back and made millions, but decided to return because this way, I know I will die a more peaceful death knowing I tried,” recalls Manoj, of choosing the road not taken.

Altogether three co-founders, the third being Ratnesh Yadav, stared tinkering with different technologies, and stumbled upon Gasification, which was written off by people because it was ahead of its time, and had certain failures, without people having given it another chance to get to the root cause of the problem and fix it accordingly.

“We dabbled with solar at the start, which was turning out too expensive at the time. So, instead, we decided to mobilise local resources, and arrived upon biomass as the way to go. While we were at it, we knew we had to have a plant that was simple, so that locals themselves could run it, considering hiring high-calibre engineers to come down from cities for running these power plants was not viable,” Manoj says.

What was best available around them to constitute the biomass was husks of rice, Bihar’s staple diet, that came as waste from rice hullers. Besides, wheat husks and corn cobs were also harnessed. Their experiment flourished beyond expectations, and they scaled their operations by setting up 84 such small indigenous 25 KW plants, which generate power six hours a day for 340 days a year. Each plant serves around 400 households, and in all, they electrified 300 villages and touched the lives of over 200,000 people.

They also received UNFCCC certification for reducing the carbon imprint by eliminating the use of 42,000 litres of kerosene and 18,000 litres of diesel, and preventing 215 tons of carbon emissions yearly, which also significantly reduces indoor air pollution and improves health conditions in rural areas.

When we started, this sector of mini-grid was unheard of at the time. We provide a service that the government cannot in remote areas. “People pay bills regularly, unlike how they defaulted with the government, because we deliver what we promise. They now have electricity for 95 per cent of the time between 8 am and 10 pm.”

Now, they have entered the solar market again as costs have reduced. With this dual technology, they will become the first company to supply two forms of clean energy to rural households round the clock, with solar powering their day, and husk energy lighting their nights.

They also monetise the waste of the waste, that is, the residue generated after processing the biomass, by recruiting 50 women at every plant who make incense sticks out of the matter discarded. This is further retailed to cities in Bihar, under the brand name ‘Ganga Agarbattis’, to enable an inward flow of cash from urban to rural areas.

Providing a means of livelihood to women fundamentally changes the family dynamics. When a woman is empowered to fend for her family, she is more respected and gains more bargaining power.”

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic is a painter, swimmer, skydiver, and motivational speaker.

Nick Vujicic is 33 years old. He was born with an extremely rare congenital disorder known as Phocomelia, which is characterised by the absence of legs and arms. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Nick struggled mentally, emotionally, and physically. Bullied at school, he attempted suicide when he was just 10 years old.

Eventually coming to terms with his disability, Nick decided to become vocal about living with disabilities and finding hope and meaning in life. The charismatic Australian now travels the world addressing huge crowds. He has visited more than 57 countries and given over three thousand talks, some of which have attracted audiences as large as 110,000 people.

Nick has also founded an international non-profit organisation and ministry, Life Without Limbs, through which he campaigns against bullying. Brimming with life, Nick loves to paint, swim, skydive, and surf. He has also published his memoir Love Without Limits, which is an international bestseller. Happily married to Kanae Miyahara, Nick is the proud father of two sons.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

This dalit labourer dug a well himself to give his community access to water

What does a dalit man do when his wife is refused permission to draw water from a well by an owner? He digs a well himself so that his wife does not have to face, not only water scarcity, but also insults from the members of the higher caste. Bapurao Tajne dug a well all by himself, a job that is normally done by about 5 people. Now, the entire Dalit locality of the village is drawing water from his well and does not have to depend on people from other castes for water.

Bapurao is a poor labourer of Kalambeshwar village of Washim district, Maharashtra. Though he had never dug a well before, he devoted six hours daily for 40 days until he struck water. No one, not even his family members, helped him. Everybody thought he had gone crazy. After all, who could find water in a rocky terrain especially when three wells and a borewell near the spot had gone dry. The villagers openly mocked him but Bapurao went ahead with his task undeterred.

“I don’t want to name the well owner for I don’t want bad blood in the village. However, I feel that he insulted us because we are poor and Dalits. I came home that day in March and almost cried. I resolved never to beg for water from anybody. I went to Malegaon (the closest town) and bought tools and within an hour I started digging,” Bapurao told The Times Of India. There was no hydrological study done to select the spot, Bapurao went by instinct. “I prayed fervently to God before starting the job. I am thankful that my effort has been rewarded,” he added.

His wife Sangita now regrets mocking at him. “I did not help him a bit until he struck water. Now the whole family, except the two kids, helps him as he deepens and widens the well. It is already 15 feet deep and Bapurao wants to dig 5 feet further. It is 6 feet wide at the top and he wants to make it 8 feet wide. We are hoping our neighbours will help us in this task,” she said.

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.