With feet on the ground, they fly high! Meet the Karves

“Can the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” This question posed by Edward Lorenz, the man behind the Chaos Theory, later came to be more popularly known as the Butterfly Effect. To put it simply, the future is determined by present conditions. A small flap of a butterfly’s wing in one part of the world today could lead to a tornado in another time and space. Similarly, your little “flap” for the environment today may not cause an immediate effect; but its effect could have a resounding and reverberating effect for the future. The question is – Do you want to be that contributing butterfly? Do you want to be Ek Titli?

The Karves
The Karves. Photo Courtesy Richa Taneja

In the pursuit to find such battling titlis, Richa Taneja met the two time Ashden award winners for sustainable energy, Dr. Anand Karve and Dr. Priyadarshini Karve, a father-daughter duo, who are incessantly working towards newer methods to create an eco-friendly environment. Here are the excerpts of their journey, their contributions, their struggle and how you can be a fellow ‘titli’.

Following her father and scientist Anand Karve’s footsteps, Priyadarshini Karve was always inclined towards environmental issues and in 2005 she founded Samuchit Enviro Tech Pvt. Ltd. (SET) in Pune, which works towards rural entrepreneurship based on appropriate technology. Her research led her to devise a fuel using the sugarcane leaves which are left behind after cultivation. For her invention- the charcoaling technology and the Sarai Cooking System, she received the Ashden Award 2002 for providing a solution in the field of sustainable energy.

The kitchen kills more than the sword – German Proverb

Kirk Smith, a famous researcher from the Biofuels and Development Project’s research, Hawai, has pointed out that inhaling of even a day’s smoke from a stove has serious implications on the health. Smoke from stoves is the primary cause of acute respiratory infections like asthma, chronic obstructive lung diseases, low birth weights, tuberculosis, chronic cough, eye infections leading to cataract, still births and premature births among womenfolk.

Smoky Statistics
• 60% of the households in India still rely on wood and biomass as cooking fuels using primitive, smoky and inefficient chulhas (Census, 2001)
• Every year 5,00,000 women and children in India die prematurely due to long term exposure to smoke in the kitchen (WHO, 2002)
• Subsidy on LPG and kerosene is not sustainable in the long term ((Planning Commission Committee, 2005)

Looking at these worrisome statistics, Priyadarshini Karve says, “Looking at the current scenario where energy consumption has become so high, switching to eco-friendly ways are the only option.” She strongly believes that only a trickle down process is the solution. “There are certain lifestyles changes that we all need to follow, be it in the rural or urban areas. Only a collective contribution towards the environment, specially lead by the enlightened mass who can afford such methods and are also sensitive to environmental causes, can formulate the way,” she asserts.

The Sarai Cooking System
The Sarai Cooking System

The Sarai Cooking System
This is an eco-friendly and cheaper way of cooking food that you can switch to. It is a portable stainless steel device operating on the combination of principles of steam cooking and retained heat cooking. This has been hailed as one of the cleanest ways of using charcoal for household cookin

Fuel required

Ordinary wood charcoal or charcoal left over in a wood burning stove, or char briquettes made from agricultural waste.

Availability of Sizes

Advantages of the System

It’s a clean charcoal burning device. As the raw material used is wood, there is complete combustion and no soot remains as opposed to kerosene stoves.

• Fast lighting
• Flame control
• Height suited for squatting and cooking
• Flexibility in fuels
• Low smoke and soot
• Fuel saving
• Low price

Availability of these products

Konkan, Pune, Satara, Bangalore, Dharwad, Coimbatore

Gasifier stove
This is yet another innovative product for an efficient and eco-friendly cooking experience. It has a stainless steel outer body and uses wood chips, pellets, biomass briquettes, small twigs, wood chunks, etc. as fuel producing charcoal as a by – product.

Clean facts!

“These stoves can easily meet the demand of a small family and the urban population can conveniently switch to this eco-friendly way of cooking, following which we are hopeful that it can reach to the rural population who need it the most,” says Priyadarshini Karve pensively.

Like father, like daughter. “It gives me a huge psychological satisfaction to contribute towards the society and I am delighted that my daughter also took up this cause with me,” expresses Dr. Anand Karve, whose humble steps towards this noble cause began in the year 1982 when he joined the Centre for Application of Science and Technology. The centre was registered as Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) in the year 1996 with its branch located in Satara District, Phaltan in Pune. Dr. Karve is the current President for the same. With the mass efflux of the rural population to cities, especially those engaged in the manufacturer of paper, glass, handicrafts and professionals like goldsmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, he realised that farming and agriculture are sources of income that would work in a rural setup. Thus was born the impetus to devise methods to generate energy in an eco-friendly way in these set-ups.

His invention, the compact biogas system uses waste products from households, like starchy or sugary feedstock – waste grain flour, spoilt grain, overripe or misshapen fruit, non-edible seeds, fruits and rhizomes, green leaves, kitchen waste and leftover food.

This invention got him international recognition and fetched him the Ashden Award in 2006.

“This compact bio-gas plant is a good way of optimising the waste and is easy to set up in homes too. This system is 800 times more efficient than the conventional biogas system and is ideal for triggering generator sets for housing complexes,” remarks Dr. Karve. “Also, when load-shedding has become a common norm in rural areas- biomassification is an excellent alternative for rural electrification,” he adds.

In Norway and Swedan, biogas is being used to run local buses. On asking about the feasibility of adopting a similar approach in India, Dr. Karve replied, “Organic waste has to be compressed so that the carbon dioxide produced after decomposition of starch could be weeded out. But it’s a fairly costly affair and also difficult to adopt in the Indian scenario.”

Road blocks
A major road block to their mission is one of financing their operations.

“To popularise the improved cooking stoves, Samuchati participates in agricultural exhibitions and give demos at various places but for big scale marketing, money is a hindrance”, says Priyadarshini Karve.

“Need government’s support to popularise these eco-friendly techniques. Exemption on sales and less octroi duty can be the first step. But to even ask a question in the parliament, members demand money! Where do we get that from and why should we even give it?” questions Anand Karve.

Another groundbreaking venture of theirs which involves retarding the bio-degradation of bamboo is plagued by the same problem. This method involves impregnating bamboo with a mixture of potassium dichromate, copper sulphate and boric acid to retard its bio-degradation. Impregnated bamboo can be used for constructing scaffolding for vineyards, greenhouses, fences, and even water tanks. They express, “Bamboo shoots’ shelf life is not more than 10 days. In case of bulk Bamboo transportation from the forests, a no objection certificate is required, but if the officers do not come for 10 days, the whole crop perishes and usually, officers do not come to aid unless their pockets are filled with wads. Again the question of money crops in.”

When asked if any Government Ministry was supporting this cause, they retort, “The files are being transferred from the rural development affairs to the environment ministry to health ministry to women’s health and child departments, but no one’s taking any plausible action.” The ownership of this has not been taken up by any single department leading to their petition running around in circles.

A ray of hope for some action
An Ashden collective with 16 Ashden award winners of India has been formed in order to pitch to the Government the adoption of innovative technology that uses renewable sources of energy. “Not many people are working towards sustainable energy in India, thus we are hopeful that as a collective when we pitch in these ideas, some amendment could take place,” inform the Karves.

In C. W. Longenecker’s words,
“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but soon or late the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can.”

The untiring crusade of the Karves for the environment is surely a source of great inspiration. Their pragmatic approach to the problems of an energy deficit along with the sustainability of its solution is sure to set about a change in the way we produce and consume energy in the years to come.

Author: Richa Taneja
Richa is currently pursuing her Masters in Mass Communications and enjoys travelling, reading, writing, dancing and music and aspires to make films on social and development issues.

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