Green Heroes: 86-year-old from Mumbai helps society save 40% on water and power bills
The seven-storey Sea Line housing society at Union Park in Khar (West) is equipped with solar power and a windmill for its electricity requirements, a rainwater harvesting facility that saves 2 lakh litres of water every year and an organic waste recycling technique, which reduces the burden on overflowing landfills in the city.
A decade-long struggle by 86-year-old Navin Chandra has paved way for homegrown answers to waste management, water and power problems through long-lasting, cost-effective and environment-friendly solutions.
The seven-storey Sea Line housing society at Union Park in Khar (West) is equipped with solar power and a windmill for its electricity requirements, a rainwater harvesting facility that saves 2 lakh litres of water every year and an organic waste recycling technique, which reduces the burden on overflowing landfills in the city. The society introduced these green measures in 2005-06 and recovered the costs by 2012.
“The idea was to make the best use of natural resources and safeguard city’s environment,” said Chandra. “When I moved to the apartment in 2000, the whole complex was in a mess, almost an environmental disaster. It took years to convince everyone. But once they reaped the benefits, there was no looking back.”
The couple’s efforts were recognised last month after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis awarded the duo as the ‘best small society’ and ‘clean crusader’ award, one among 7,000 buildings in Mumbai, at an award function organised by a private bank.
With 10 flats, the building has a rooftop solar system consisting of fifty panels and a windmill that powers electricity requirements for all common areas of the building, including an office with six computers. Additionally, a solar water heating system supplies hot water to 40 bathrooms in the building at an average temperature of 60 degrees Celsius.
The renewable energy helps save 60% of the society’s monthly electricity bill. “Prior to the installation of the wind and solar setup, we were spending Rs 18,000 per month, now our monthly bill is not more than Rs 7,000,” said Chandra. “As per our assessment, the renewable energy model has helped us avoid the emission of over 3000kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.”
The complex does not depend upon the civic body for its non-potable water consumption at all. The quarter-of-an-acre rooftop and common areas, act as catchment for rainwater. The water collected is channeled to a borewell with a capacity of 10,000 litres and excess water is used to recharge groundwater.
“In a crisis situation, where we are unable to procure drinking water for the society, we have made alternate arrangements where the stored rainwater is purified with the help of two machines. The cleansed water is directly transported to our drinking water tanks,” said Chandra.
Meanwhile, the society’s complete wet waste is segregated at source, collected from a door-to-door method and recycled into manure at a 3X3 feet vermicomposting pit. Every month, 100kg organic waste is converted into 10kg compost through the use of worms to degenerate the waste.
“In a city where air pollution is a prime concern, treating your own waste not only helps reduce the quantum at dumping grounds but also saves the tax payers’ money by reducing transportation cost of sending daily garbage,” said Chandra.
While the cost of setting up the solar, wind systems was Rs13 lakh, the society spent Rs7 lakh in installing the rainwater harvesting facility and about a lakh for the vermiculture pit. All expenditures were recovered by 2012 and the reduced utility expenses of the society by 40%.
Soon, wastewater recycling initiative at Union Park
Navin Chandra, 86, has developed a blue print to recycle wastewater from an apartment complex for one of the largest public parks at Union Park, Khar (West), which is currently being considered by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
Wastewater from an eight-storey apartment will be channelled to the park where the park’s bed will be dug up and natural filtration systems such as rocks, stones and red soil will be used to treat the water. An outlet on another end will provide the treated water which can be used for plants and trees.
“After the successful implementation of Chandra’s projects over the last 10 years, several neighbouring apartment complexes got the confidence to follow at least one of the three initiatives. His efforts are an inspiration for residents across all apartments at Union Park as he is consciously working towards reducing a large portion of the city’s carbon footprint,” said Bharati Kakkad, secretary, Union Park Residents Association.
“The municipal corporation and citizens should take note of Chandra’s efforts and push for a decentralised system not only for treating waste but power generation and water supply. In turn, the civic body should respond by providing tax rebates for all those houses that are becoming self-sufficient and safeguarding environment through their efforts,” said V Ranganathan, former municipal commissioner of the BMC.
Deep underground lie stores of once-inaccessible natural gas. There’s a technology, called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that can extract this natural gas, potentially powering us for decades to come. So how does fracking work and why is it a source of such heated controversy? Mia Nacamulli explains the ins and outs of fracking.
I first learnt of Firdosh Roowalla through an article published in 2015 in Sakaal Times. The article talked about an entrepreneur in Pune who converted the old school concept of waste degradation into a simple soil nutrient production system. I decided to reach out to him. After a quick phone call, Firdosh immediately liked the idea of a story based on him and was kind enough to take some time out for me on a busy Monday morning.
As a Puneite, anyone living in the Koregaon Park – Kalyani Nagar area is considered to be affluent in living and conduct, with their prosperity showing off at every syllable they utter and every step they take. But this perception was belied when I met Firdosh, waiting for me at the gate of Kumar Presidency in Koregaon Park.
Dressed in a simple shirt, jeans, and pair of chappals with a plastic bag in hand, Firdosh is every bit an environmentalist and a social entrepreneur. No jazzy clothes, no swanky electronics, this humble man is warm and welcoming to anyone who comes to him seeking knowledge about his craft. There is a sense of stability and control in his gait and yet he doesn’t mince words while expressing his disagreement on the way people handle waste.
Firdosh Roowalla, founder of the Green Thumb Compost, gets upset seeing our environment getting buried in the increasing pile of waste. A nature lover at heart and a green thumb too, Firdosh blended his passions to start his organization. Here’s the story of his journey so far:
Firdosh’s Organization deals with degrading kitchen and garden waste into soil nutrient compost. Every composting unit has 2 types of installations – the kitchen waste composting and the garden waste composting. As simple as it may sound, the safety concerns in this process are many.
Click Here for the full story with more videos and pics
A metro train travels through a residential area in Mumbai June 8, 2014. Mumbai’s first metro 11.40 km (07.08 miles) long corridor Versova-Andheri-Ghakopar service was opened for commuters on Sunday after it was flagged off by Maharashtra’s chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, local media reported. REUTERS/Stringer
Japan got its first underground metro in the 1920s. Nearly a century later Mumbai is scheduled to receive its first metro by 2020. Young Mumbaikars, who have lived and travelled abroad and experienced commuting by metro, were most thrilled at the news of having their own. After all it was high time, right?
That’s what I thought until a few days ago when the distant noise of chainsaws caught my attention along with other people in my neighbourhood of Churchgate. A crew of men were slicing away at the bark of a 200-year-old banyan tree—it was painful to watch. I never realised we could be so connected to our trees until that day; I felt violated.
The government has decided that it is going to build the metro even if it means bypassing laws and endangering citizens.
In Mumbai, we don’t have the luxury of private gardens or public parks filled with trees, the song of birds, fluttering butterflies, et al. We live in apartments and can barely afford the minimum nature required for survival. The godlike trees that line the sidewalks equip us with cooler summers and are a relief for the eyes and the soul.
It all began in December 2016 with a newspaper mention that some trees would be cut for the metro. Some curious citizens enquired with the authorities and were told 5000 trees could go.
During the Congress government’s tenure, a monorail project had been initiated to boost the connectivity of the existing monorail, and harbour lines were extended, but the projects have been abandoned by the BJP government for unknown reasons.
Subsequently, a metro project proposed in the 1960s, was taken up as the next big thing. (In the 1980s, a plan was introduced to build the metro under the already existing railway system in order to save space and lessen inconvenience to citizens but that didn’t take off). That wouldn’t be a bad idea to implement today now, would it?
Zoru, a resident of Khar, who has filed a petition in the Mumbai High Court, explains that the plan of the Mumbai Metro is badly designed—recreational spaces such as parks and open grounds that have the most number of trees, have been marked as future metro stations. “No thought has gone into planning and considering least damage scenarios where trees and the environment are concerned,” he says.
Robin Jaisinghani, a resident of Cuffe Parade, says the alignment of stations and tracks looks haphazard and mindless. And Cuffe Parade has now lost its garden of 400 trees.
“There was no need to cut down all those trees, if they had done it the right way they could’ve saved at least 350,” he says.
The MMRC is using outdated equipment and methods for construction instead of the commonly used NATM (New Austrian Tunnelling Method)… that would not require all the trees to be cut along the path.
The MMRC is also using outdated equipment and methods for construction instead of the commonly used NATM (New Austrian Tunnelling Method), which has been used for building underground metros since the 60s. The NATM only requires a hole to be dug at either end of the road and one can burrow through it to create a tunnel that would not require all the trees to be cut along the path. Instead, MMRC is using the primitive cut-open method.
According to Jaisinghani, the Executive Director of Planning at MMRC, R. Ramana, said during a visit that the authority didn’t have the resources to save the trees.
Another technicality shows that the area required to build the stations is 60 metres by 25 metres and stations of this size are being built at locations like DN Road. So why are trees being cut on both sides of the 150-metre-wide Churchgate Road when it can clearly be avoided?
There are other rules that are being flouted. One is a Supreme Court ruling that mandates that no construction should be carried out in residential areas from 10pm until 6am, but the loud noise of the ancient equipment in deployment—which easily exceeds 90db— can be heard into the wee hours of the night (any noise above 80db is said to be harmful to humans).
The authorities don’t seem to have environmental permissions either, at least according to a letter sent by the State Environment Impact Authority to the MMRCL dated 21st April 2017. In addition, the construction site falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone, which needs special permissions as it involves mining of rock and substrata material.
After witnessing the harmful effects of chemical farming, Subash Palekar, a B.Sc in Agriculture, developed the Zero Budget Natural Farming model.
‘Krishi ka Rishi’ is the title farming communities across the country have bestowed on Subhash Palekar. This agriculturist is the creator of the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ model, a method that has been creating waves in the farming community in India.
Palekar was born on 2nd February, 1949 in Belora, a small village in the district of Amravati, Maharastra. The son of a farmer, his interest in farming led him to pursue a B.Sc in Agriculture from Nagpur.
By 1985, however, Palekar began to notice a drop in yield; one that only got worse with each harvest. Curious about the sudden change, he began to look into the reasons for the decline. Three years of intensive research led him to the conclusion that chemical farming was the culprit. Palekar learnt that the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides led to a decrease in the fertility of the soil, wrecked havoc on the ecosystem of the area and also led to long-term health problems for those who consumed the fruits, gains and vegetables harvested under such conditions.
Shocked by the harmful effects of chemical farming, Palekar began the hunt for less-destructive alternatives. Thus began the journey of Zero Budget Natural Farming in India.
From 1986 to 1988, Palekar’s quest for natural farming techniques led him to the study of forest vegetation. It was here that he discovered the natural system at work in forests which allowed them to develop and nurture themselves, while maintaining healthy ecosystems. After careful research of the system, Palekar began to mimic the techniques he had witnessed, in his own farm. For a period of six years, from 1989 to 1995, he experimented and verified different techniques, before consolidating them into the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ technique.
Zero Budget Natural Farming, as the name implies, is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure the healthy growth of crops.
Below are some of key learnings from the Zero Budget Natural Farming method:
It is believed that plants only receive 1.5% to 2% of their nutrient requirements from soil; the remaining is absorbed through water and air. Given that 98% of the nutrients do not come from soil, using fertilizers is not prudent.
We often come across huge trees in forests, their branches heavy with the weight of countless fruit despite the lack of fertilizers and pesticides. These trees are proof that plants can and do grow healthily without any chemical help.
The reason we do not witness the same in our farms is because the micro-organisms that convert raw nutrients into easy-to-digest form have been destroyed by the use of poisonous chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Cultivation of soil by tractor has already proved to be detrimental to these micro-organisms.
Since these micro-organisms help convert nutrients into a digestible form that plants can absorb and use, it is critical to revive them in our farms. This can be done by using cow dung from local cows.
Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. One gram of cow dung is believed to have anywhere between 300 to 500 crore beneficial micro-organisms. These micro-organisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants.
Over six years of research, Palekar found that:
1. Only dung from local, Indian cows is effective on the soil. Dung from Jersey and Holstein cows is not as effective. If one is falling short of dung from local cows, one may use dung from bullocks or buffaloes.
2. Dung and urine of the black coloured Kapila cow is believed to be the most effective.
3. To get the most of the cow dung and urine, ensure that the dung is as fresh as possible and that the urine is as old as possible.
4. An acre of land requires 10 kilograms of local cow dung per month. Since the average cow gives 11 kilograms of dung a day, dung from one cow can help fertilize 30 acres of land.
5. Urine, jaggery and dicot flour can be used as additives.
6. The lesser milk the cow gives, the more beneficial its dung is towards reviving the soil.
More than 40 lakh farmers across the country have benefitted greatly from Palekar’s teachings and his method of natural farming. Palekar spends 25 days a month sharing his knowledge of farming through seminar, lectures, workshops and field visits. Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have also requested him to spend ten days a month in their states, in order to help their farmers develop healthy farming habits.
In 2016, in recognition of his work and the impact he was creating, the Government of India conferred Palekar with the prestigious Padamashri Award. Palekar also made history for being the first active farmer to receive the award.
Palekar’s Zero Budget Natural Farming has undoubtedly made an indelible mark on farming in India.
Residents of Bangalore are up in arms about the proposed felling of 112 trees in the Jayamahal area to make way for a steel flyover to help reduce traffic congestion in the city. Is there no way in which these large, old trees can be saved from sure death?
Urbanization and development are an inevitable part of living today. Road widening and building of flyovers has to happen in every city, but, this comes at the cost of losing green cover. Though transplantation and translocation of trees is an age-old activity the world across, it is rarely looked to as a solution before a tree is brought down.
In 2009, when the Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway was being built, the existing road needed to be widened. A large number of trees were cut down for this and no one from the general public raised an objection.
Moved by this unfortunate incident, Ramchandra Appari, a resident of Hyderabad, decided to do something to stop the indiscriminate felling of trees.
Ramchandra, supervising the translocation work
“During a random conversation with a friend of mine in Australia I mentioned my feelings about this to him. He introduced me to the idea of tree translocation and after doing a lot of reading about it, I set up the Green Morning Horticulture Services Private Limited, which offers professional help in landscaping and tree translocation,” says Ramchandra, the managing director of the company.
While reading up and learning more about the process of tree translocation, Ramchandra found that knowledge about this practice has been around since 2000 BC. Ancient Egyptian pictographs depict men transporting trees, with their roots, in large containers. The Egyptians, supposedly transported large trees by ships from different parts of the world and transplanted them in Egypt.
“It is indeed amazing that a solution to the felling of large trees exists with humans for many centuries now. It is heartening to know that in most countries, the world over, trees are not cut down but are instead translocated. However, for some reason, in India, this is not popular as yet,” continues Ramachandra.
We all know that trees play a very important role in protecting the lives of all other living beings found around them.
Uprooted tree, with roots packed, being moved by a crane.
Most of our activities generate plenty of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that pollute the atmosphere, and it is only trees that can convert these gases into oxygen and help counter the ill-effects.
Trees take many years to grow and once fully grown, many species can live for more than a hundred years. The loss of even one tree in a vicinity can cause an imbalance in the natural wealth and health of the surrounding area.
“In India, apart from Hyderabad, tree translocation is being done in certain parts of Gujarat and in Bangalore too. Trees like gulmohar, neem, jamun, mango, pepul and other ficus species can be easily translocated. To date, our company has translocated some 5,000 trees and we can easily say that we have achieved a success rate of 80%. The process is slow and takes time and what makes it expensive is basically the need to hire earth movers, cranes and trailers,” adds Ramachandra.
Tree translocation is a tedious process, which has to be done very carefully. Once the tree is identified, the earth around the roots (at least 4 feet in diameter and depth) is dug and the roots are treated with chemicals to help in the transportation.
After a week the tree is lifted with a crane and the roots are packed up in a large jute bag, making a root ball out of them.
A tree being lowered into the trench in the new location.
The tree with most of its branches pruned, is then transported in a trolley to the new place, where a root ball trench has already been made and the soil has been treated with anti-pest and anti-disease chemicals. The tree is planted in the new trench, and for the next couple of months requires close monitoring.
Recently, in the stretch planned for the Hyderabad Metro Rail, around 800 trees had to be translocated. This major project was taken up by the company and almost all the trees are thriving in the new locations. To try and maintain some sort of balance in the vicinity from where a tree has been uprooted, the company generally tries to plant the uprooted tree as close to the place where it has been uprooted from.
However, if this is not possible, a 5-year-old tree is planted in the vicinity and the full grown uprooted tree is planted elsewhere.
A ficus tree translocated to a large garden.
“The expenses for translocation of the trees mainly depends on three factors: the size of the tree, the number of trees that the client wants to translocate and the distance from where the tree is being uprooted to the place where it has to be replanted. We have once charged Rs. 6,000 for a 15-year-old tree and even charged Rs. 1.5 lakh for a 100-year-old one,” says Ramachandra.
With cities across the world rapidly losing green cover, there is an urgent need for more research on the viability of tree translocation, and it is becoming increasingly important that we take steps to save each and every full-grown tree.
About the author: Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.
A Michigan State University research team has at last made a truly transparent solar panel — a innovation that could soon usher in a world where windows, panes of glass, and even complete buildings could be used to produce solar energy. Until now, solar cells of this kind have been only partly transparent and generally a bit tinted, but these new ones are so transparent that they are almost indistinguishable from a usual pane of glass.
Previous claims toward transparent solar panels have been deceptive, since the very nature of transparent materials means that light must pass through them. Transparent photovoltaic cells are almost impossible, in fact, as solar panels produce energy by changing absorbed photons into electrons. For a material to be completely transparent, light would have to travel uninhibited to the eye which means those photons would have to pass through the material wholly (without being absorbed to produce solar power).
So, to attain a truly transparent solar cell, the Michigan State team made this thing called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which employs organic salts to absorb wavelengths of, light those are at present unseen to the human eye. Steering clear of the fundamental difficulties of making a transparent photovoltaic cell permitted the scientists to harness the power of infrared and ultraviolet light.
The TLSC projects a luminescent glow that has a converted wavelength of infrared light which is also invisible to the human eye. More traditional (non-transparent) photovoltaic solar cells frame the panel of the main material, and it is these solar cells that transform the concentrated infrared light into electricity.
Versions of previous semi-transparent solar cells that cast light in colored shadows can generally achieve proficiency of about 7%, but Michigan State’s TLSC is projected to attain a top efficiency of 5% with additional testing (presently, the prototype’s efficiency reaches a mere one percent). While numbers like seven and five percent efficiency appear low, houses featuring fully solar windows or buildings made from the organic material could compound that electricity and bring it to a more useful level.
Scientists on the Michigan State team believe their TLSC technology could span from industrial applications to more manageable uses like consumer devices and handheld gadgets. Their main priorities in continuing to develop the technology seem to be power efficiency and maintaining a scalable level of affordability, so that solar power can continue to grow as a major player in the field of renewable energy.