Innovating India-2

It is not only the biggies of India Inc that are innovating new products such as ‘Nano’ of Tata Motors. Even at grass-root level, many unknown innovators are doing their best to inventing products and processes to bring a significant quality change of doing things in new ways. I knew about Prof Gupta of IIM-Ahmedabad pioneered the subject of grass-root innovation in India with National Innovation Foundation Dr. Abdul Kalam has been a great source of inspiration for innovation and knowledge dissipation right up to the bottom of the pyramid. I was delighted to know about Paul Basil and his Rural Innovations Network RIN. Nitya Varadarajan reports in ‘Business Today’ about these grass-root innovators and Paul.

· Anna Saheb Udgave, 75, is a farmer from Belgaum district in Karnataka created a rain gun that could simply harness groundwater and spray it across fields covering a particular distance in all directions. The rain gun uses 50 per cent less water than the regular irrigation mechanisms. Called the Varsha Rain Gun, the instrument has since become a huge hit with the receptive farmers in the region and made Udgave a household name.

· J. Meghanathan, 30, a resident of Pinayur, a small village 55 km from Chennai and a history graduate, has developed a semi-automatic brick-making machine. This would reduce labour drudgery while increasing production. This machine is awaiting technology transfer to an SME before it goes into full-scale production. His idea: to make a machine that increases productivity through some form of automation and yet keeps it simple, resulting in better efficiency and profits. Meghanathan’s brickmaking machine has found more buyers for technology transfer than he ever imagined.

· P. Kumar’s, a farmer in Dharmapuri district with a 50-acre holding has developed a self-driven, fuel-run Weeder. Developed at a cost of Rs 45,000, this gadget is a great substitute for the acute labour shortage in the area. It runs about 80 minutes on one litre of kerosene or petrol and is ideally suited for cultivable land of 5 acres and above. Kumar is busy fine-tuning the product with the help of IIT Madras to bring the cost down to a more affordable Rs 30,000.

· As reported, an innovator developed paralysis spraying chemical pesticides and this prompted him to develop an herbal pesticide, while another person has invented a stem injection route for banana plantation as an alternative to spraying medicines.

· K. Murugan of Tutikorin is planning big to scale up his banana synthion separator (that removes silky thread from the banana stem) to put up a factory costing several crore.

· At a small village near Madurai, a family that was once below poverty line, now sucessfully uses the rotary extraction machine to take out herbal extracts for hair oils, face packs and other cosmetics for direct selling to beauty parlours.

Rural Innovations Network (RIN), a non-profit NGO, and its Chief Executive Officer and Founder Paul Basil, himself a mechanical engineer has provided the necessary assistance required to make the modifications in the ideas to make them work effectively RIN turned the crude innovations into viable products. It is great that Paul Basil is focused “on areas relating to water, agriculture, dairy and energy, while other areas were looked on case-for-case basis.”

RIN has a tie up with IIT Madras. Many programmes such as Lemelson Recognition and Mentoring Programme (L-RAMP) are trying to bring out the grass-root talents. Even companies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) are trying to encourage the concept.

An SME entrepreneur Servals Automation have partnered with RIN to popularise the Vincent burner for kerosene stoves, which sells 25,000 units a month and the Varsha rain gun. This company is one of the contenders for Meghanathan’s semi-automated brick-making machine.

Similar grassroot innovations are reported from many parts of the country:

An Std VI pass-out who comes from a village in Uttar Pradesh has developed a stove, which uses polythene as a fuel. Four students from the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) have stepped in to market the product.

A farmer from Saurashtra improvised a cruiser bike to plough, sow and weed fields! Called ‘Bullet Santi’ (bullet plough). For farmers this is like the Nano car. It costs less than a mini tractor. The maintenance cost is lower than keeping a pair of bullocks.

I wish at least one from every institute of national institute work on the grassroot innovation to exploit and encourage the talent in vast rural and urban areas of the country. For every institute and teacher, the mission must be to explore the creativity of the students and direct it to a right cause to improve the living conditions of those who are still left behind.

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