Friday, June 24, 2016

Think Twice..!

It was 7th May, I was at a height of 30000 ft in an airplane, thinking about the “Oxford of the East”. Yes, I was going to stay in Pune for the next two months. A huge nervousness was rolling through my nerves, “how the city will welcome me? How the localities will be? I cannot stay hungry for long and I’m a non-junk food lover, how it would be if I don’t get my desired food. As I have never worked in an office before, I was concerned whether I would be able to deliver all that my mentor would want me to?.....and so on. Three hours passed like a few minutes and my plane landed. I saw my best friend waiting for me in the crowd, and the welcoming part was pretty good with hugs and introduction with her friends. She guided me through the city to her residence. The next day my friends took me out to have a glimpse of the city, and the very first place I was interested in, was “Samuchit Enviro Tech”. From far I could see the signboard on the balcony of a building, reciting the organization’s name. So, it was a first hand experience on how to reach the workplace from the place of stay and back.

Confused and excited, I reached the organization next day where I saw Anu, and three more interns (three more joined after me), and my mentor Dr. Priyadarshini Karve. I looked back at Anu, the only person I was familiar with, and smiled. Karve ma’am, and all the other personnel who hold high knowledge, skill and experience in their respective field, today they make a family of mine in Pune. We were asked to review the report that was prepared by Anu about the smartness of the city of Pune and its sustainability. Other than this, we discussed about the issues that were supposed to be covered during the survey for collection / assembling of data. We used ‘Survey Monkey’ for online filling up of the data collected during the survey, through which one can easily get the summary of the survey online. After 2 days of discussion, on 11th May, all of us, enthused for the survey, met at the office, and went out with four scooties fully loaded with fuel and we all loaded with courage.

So our target was 438 HH (Household) comprising of 263 general HH and 175 slum HH, which is about 1% of the total population of Ghole Road Ward of Pune, a representative of Pune city. We surveyed Ward no. 11, 12, 13, 24, 25 and 36 for about 20 days and five days were spent on uploading the data in survey monkey. Today is my 38th day in the organization and I will be back to my study town Guwahati by next week, so I thought of writing this blog about my experience. Well, a month before I knew nothing about this city, but today I have so much in my mind that I actually felt short of space to narrate all the issues in brief.

Pune is well known for its vibrant civil society and cultural richness. It has also achieved a rich legacy of participation in governance, smart city concept is like a cherry on top of the cake. It has brought transparency and engagement of the ordinary or the bottom up approach in the decision making process more transparent. But I was dazed to know that about a one sixth of the total population, which is about more than half (my survey experience) of the HIGs (High Income Group), doesn’t want to participate in any kind of conversation on the developmental issues. The arguments or excuses that I mostly came across was - “Pune is already smart as you are; we don’t want to provide you any information; we don’t have time for all this crap; we are sleeping come later (but later they never opened the door), where are you from, you have come so far to do this job?…..etc”. Such responses were mostly from the HIGs and very little from the MIGs. More shocking was an incident which happened to a friend of mine, who had carried out a survey in a HIG residence. One lady requested my friend to come next day to collect the form (the questionnaire that was supposed to be filled up on the spot), as she was very busy with other work. My friend went the next day to collect it along with me and another friend of ours. We rang the bell, the lady opened the door, but her creepy expression scared us. As we all three intended to enter the house, she stopped the two of us and allowed one to enter the room. We were at a loss to see her behavior and were standing outside, clueless about what was happening inside. About 20 minutes later, my friend came out red faced with tears rolling down. Yes, she was harassed. She was harassed by that lady for asking “insight” and “too personal” questions “like how many LPG cylinders you use in a month, how many cars you have, what is your monthly electricity consumption in units etc. etc”. My friend tried to cool her down by narrating that it was not mandatory for one to fill up every answer in finest correctness,but only approximated or average figure would suffice the purpose. Also, she explained the relevance of such data in the context of the project. But the lady kept on abusing her even by lowering her character. Our survey and its analysis are a part of a bigger project which aims to “develop a roadmap for establishing sustainability for Pune on a low carbon emission and social equity path”. This master plan would definitely need such questions to be answered to get the per capita carbon emission. 

However, this incident reminded me that - like developed countries refusing to take any responsibility for global climate change, these irresponsible groups of HIGs also do not want to participate in the carbon emission control program in our country. On the other hand the LIGs and the people staying in slums cooperated to the fullest. Many of them never enjoyed luxury holidays, never shopped good clothes in shopping malls and never had food in prestigious restaurants and also the problems in the city never bothered them. But they honored and respected the city of Pune - saying it is the greatest of all. But after our presentation of the problems of carbon emission etc. to them, they kept their heart out before us. Some of them had the knowledge of drought conditions in the city and insisted not to supply water 24x7 in their area but to help those who do not get a drop of water to drink or bath and have to buy it. Some of the scenior citizens also suggested to reduce the height of the foothpaths as it is difficult for them to climb and some wanted to know the goverment schemes in details so that they can claim for their right. It seemed they truly want to be a part of the developmental process of the city. Truly said, only education and money can’t make one as humble and big hearted as a poor, who has little knowledge and very little for a living, but has huge to give to the society.

However, the final analysis is yet to be done and the results would definitely concentrate more on the problems of Carbon Emission, the manner in which these can be brought down to an acceptable limit by justified minimum utilization of carbon fuel like petrol, kerosene, etc. and maximum on non carbon fuel like solar power, bio gas, etc. But the purpose of the survey of involving the citizens in the decision making was rejected by a percentage of HIG citizens themselves. And these are the citizens who at liberty to criticize the government tomorrow for not doing enough to control environmental or sanitation degradation or maybe that they are not at all bothered about the future requirements of the society.

So, in this way I/we knew Pune and its people. The credit for this achievement purely goes to the members of the “Samuchit Enviro Tech”, Pune. All our team mates also helped each other to reach the goal set forth. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. My special thanks goes to the kind hearted Mentor Madam Dr. Priyadarshini Karve, who effectively helped and guided us to remain enthused and we learned and solved critical issues cropped up during project execution. I also thank Miss Anu, for her tireless job to solve issues that we were unacquainted of and got first hand experience on field work. My gratitude goes to all these beloved people. And lastly, it would not be out of place to mention that I loved the city of Pune, despite the unscheduled PMPML busses, by which I traveled and criticised every day.

Geetanjali Purkayastha
Student of Ecology Environment and Sustainable development,
Tats Institute for Social Sciences, Guwahati

Thursday, June 16, 2016

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Are we creating a health risk for others?

Nowadays several restaurants offer traditional food cooked on a wood fire, and many of us in urban India are fans of such chulha restaurants. Some foods just do not taste the same when cooked on gas or electric stoves. Therefore some of the traditional dishes that were staple food of earlier generations have now become occasional treats for us, thanks to these specialty restaurants. But do you know that the workers of such restaurants are facing an occupational health risk?

Please consider the following facts:

1. In a household kitchen, the cook (mostly woman) is exposed to smoke in the kitchen for about 2 hrs each, twice a day. 
The finance minister in his budget address this year raised the concern of health impacts on women due to exposure to smoke in the kitchen. Many of us have supported Government of India's #giveitup campaign to provide LPG connections to poor households. 

2. In a chulha restaurant kitchen, the cooks and helpers may be men and/or women, and are exposed to smoke for close to 6-8 hrs per day. In Maharashtra state these eateries employ women for making 'bhakri' (millet roti) which involves constantly sitting next to the chulha for 6-8 hrs. This is over and above the exposure to smoke in their own home kitchens. 

Smoky kitchen of a traditional chulha restaurant

3. The household cooking in large parts of India now happens on agricultural and forestry residue, which is renewable biomass. As large scale cooking is involved in a commercial eatery, the fuel for the chulha restaurants is typically tree wood, and there is no way to trace its origin. This is in all probability un-sustainably harvested non-renewable biomass. Thus, it is contributing to deforestation too.

Am I then saying that it is wrong to patronise chulha restaurants? No, such a drastic measure is not required!

There exist smokeless chulhas that can give the same taste and flavour to the food as the traditional chulhas, but also provide a healthier work environment for the kitchen staff. In addition, these chulhas are energy efficient, resulting in reducing consumption of firewood. This is good for the environment, and will also financially benefit the restaurant owner.

One such solution offered by Samuchit Enviro Tech is ELFD Sampada Gasifier stove. This stove runs on wood or woody waste biomass (e.g., coconut shells, corn cobs, etc.) or biomass briquettes. The stove burns cleanly with no smoke and provides a high temperature blue flame because of a 'fan' that introduces adequate amount of oxygen into the fire. This 'fan' does not require any mechanical fan or blower or even electricity - it runs on water and physics!

This smokeless stove is well suited for chulha based restaurants. It saves on fuel as well as cooking time, in comparison with traditional stoves. In our trials we have experienced nearly 70-80% fuel saving and 30-40% time saving with respect to traditional stoves. Our clients also corroborate this data. Please check the video links, which show the stove in operation. 

One video shows 'Bhakri' being made on ELFD Sampada, and the other video shows the preparation of 'Akkha Masur', which is a lentil curry, a specialty of Sangli district in Western Maharashtra state of India.

We appeal to you to inform your favorite chulha restaurants of this cooking energy option. If you are yourself associated with any such restaurants in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka states, do invite us for a demonstration. All types of traditional dishes can be cooked on this stove. The capital investment is recovered in less than an year through saving on fuel cost. It will also increase the productivity of the workers, by creating a healthier work environment. We work with the kitchen staff to figure out the most appropriate procedure to achieve the best end result for the chosen recipe with the least possible fuel consumption and minimum pollution in the kitchen.  

Nobody should face occupational health risks for the sake of our enjoyment. Help us reach out to these kitchens, so that all of us can continue to enjoy our occasional 'fix' of traditional wood fire cooking with clear conscience!    

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: The World Environment Day 2016 - Done!

I have been busy with various projects going on simultaneously, and thus haven't had much time to muse... either for the blog or otherwise! But, the World Environment Day on 5 June has come and gone, and got me thinking on how can we move from 'event' mode to 'action' mode. What do I mean by that? Please read on!

Every year, I get invited to one or two environment-focused functions on World Environment Day. This time the 'Day' became a 'triplet of Days' as 5 June, the designated date came on a Sunday. So some events were held on 4 June, some on 6 June, and some people still preferred to stick to 5 June. I have myself been part of two functions at different industries. Some of our work got highlighted by a newspaper. I saw reports of many other events and activities from different parts of the world. Most newspapers ran special features or supplements, and many environment-focused efforts got highlighted. People posted emotional messages on various social media platforms. Now it is 8 June. The annual homage has been paid, the Environment Day has been 'celebrated', its time to move on, and continue with our daily lives! Hurrah!

Every year the World Environment Day focuses on a specific environmental issue as a main theme. This year the focus was supposed to be on stopping illegal trade of wild life, but all environmental issues are linked to each other. So the events, activities, messages, etc., do not have to stick to the theme per se. In fact, if we trace back the root cause of why there is any trade in wild life, illegal or otherwise, it all comes back to us, humans, the 'wildest' (in the 'out of control' sense of the word!) of all species. Our lifestyle is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT threat to the other species on the earth today! A human is either living a highly consumption based lifestyle, or is aspiring for it! We take these little pauses like the Environment Day to do some 'introspection' and the next day we are off again!

So, how about taking some ACTION in our daily lives - an action that goes beyond the symbolism of 'celebration' of 'events'? Here is one simple action that anyone and everyone can take. Of course there are then follow up actions that also can be taken, it is really a question of how far you wish to go! In a way, this is also an introspection on the way we live and our impact on nature, however, this is a more intellectual and rational introspection rather than an emotional one. It is based on culling out some hard facts from our lifestyle, and then giving a serious thought to how to change things. It is about CALCULATING OUR PERSONAL CARBON FOOTPRINT!

Pull out a calculator, and spend some 10-15 min to calculate your own carbon footprint. The images in this blog give you the 'recipe' for this (if you want a pdf file for the same, please write to It is not a very complex calculation, and obviously it is not highly accurate. But it will give you a ballpark figure for your own carbon footprint. Please remember though, that in the interest of simplicity, this calculator leaves a number of contributing factors out of the calculation, so what you are getting is an UNDERESTIMATE of your carbon footprint - your personal contribution to climate change.

What do you do with the number that you end up with after you finish the calculation? Remember that climate scientists are warning us that the world should not be allowed to get warmer beyond 1.5 deg C more than what the current average temperature of the earth is. The world leaders have agreed to keep the global warming to 'well below 2 deg C' (whatever that 'well below' means!). So, if we can keep this underestimate of our carbon footprint below 1.5 deg C, we would be doing our bit to help humanity deal with climate change and its impacts. The calculator will show you some of the ways and means of doing this, but I am sure we can all come up with more ideas.

Are you interested in a slightly more detailed calculation and analysis? Through Samuchit Enviro Tech we also offer an MS EXCEL based Personal Carbon Footprint Calculator for Urban Indians, which is a bit more detailed. But this one won't come cheap! It will cost you INR 100! Write to us at, if you are interested!

I am hoping to be able to organise a Samuchit Lifestyle Workshop sometime in early July. In this 3-4 hr workshop we discuss the link between our daily lives and environment, and also do our own carbon footprinting. Connect with 'Samuchit Enviro Tech' on facebook, to know more details! 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech.