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Water wheels of India are becoming modern.

Upgraded by soft technology tiny water wheels are becoming micro hydel power stations.

It always happens this way in India. People work on problems in pockets. Indian consciousness sweeps on fixed on issues of the moment. Then problem solvers connect, implement their successes and a grand development becomes discernible. We are then amazed at the difference an incremental improvement can make in a land the size of India.

Such a development is now sweeping the micro hydel power scene in the hills. There are in India today half a million locations where water mills are serving -- as they have done for centuries -- a local need, mostly grain milling. By applying affordable technolgy to most of these, an energy equivalent of 15,000 mW can be generated and 20 million Indians gainfully employed.

By convention, plants upto 25mW are termed Small Hydro Power [SHP] systems. At the lowest end are the artisanal water mills, which are being given a technology refit by a number of activists. At the higher end, the approach is more formal, involving governments and serious entrepreneurs. This article will survey the whole scene and offer you many links to follow this exciting development further. We start with the following report appearing in the February,2002 issue of Grassroots magazine, by whose kind courtesy it is reproduced here:

Upgrading Himalayan water mills:

by Anupam Trivedi

Water mills popularly known as 'Gharats' have been playing a vital role in the day to day life of people of Uttaranchal for the last several decades although in recent times -- with the advent of new technologies-- Gharats have been have been neglected a lot. But with the intervention of a few NGOs, Gharats in Uttaranchal are now being upgraded.

According to rough estimates there are nearly 500,000 water mills in the entire Himalayan region from the North Eastern states to Jammu and Kashmir. Alone, Uttaranchal has more than 70,000 water mills. These water mills or Gharats are of the vertical shaft type, evolved over thousands of years and are used essentially for grinding wheat, rice and maize and also to extract oil. "In the absence of appropriate technology, water mills were never used for any purpose other than grinding," says Dr. Anil Joshi of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation [HESCO] adding, "the basic principle on which they run is the same as that of a large hydro-electric project to produce power."

The waiting potential:

With growing awareness among water-millers and persistent effort by HESCO, around 150 water mills have been technically upgraded since 1989 in the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal. If these water mills could be used to produce electricity with minor changes, not only the energy requirement of the region could be met but also a transformation can take place in the development of the Himalayan region, notes Dr.Joshi. Abundant power produced in a decentralised manner would result in the development of the mountains.

Till date only 22% of the total water potential has been tapped to generate power. Interestingly, the country's power need is nearly 126,000mW but the power generated from water sources by big or middle sized dams is about 78,000mW. HESCO points out that if water mills are used directly for power generation across the Himalaya, the local power needs can be met sufficiently. Being a traditional activity of the mountains, knowledge, skill and infrastructure are all ready.

Studies conducted at different levels reveal that the 500,000 water mills dotting the entire Himalayan region can produce as much as 2500mW of power, assuming each generates 5kW. That is a cash generation of Rs.1200 million per hour! Not only this: it can give employment to 1,500,000 people.

Water wipes out darkness:

The eco friendly water mills could easily generate enough power for a village unit. In September 1995 at Manali in Himachal Pradesh when the entire region was in the grip of floods and houses were in darkness, the only lights were on at Simon Woolvet and Paula Chaudhuri's house. They had upgraded their water mill, which produces 5kW!

In Lachiwala near Dehradun one such upgraded water mill generates enough electricity to light home appliances along with grinding grains. Says Thakur Singh who has upgraded his Gharat, "Electricity generated from Gharat is enough to run TV, refrigerator, cooler, fans and light bulbs." The cost to upgrade the water mill was around Rs.10,000, adds he. In another example P S Bhandari of of village Khod in Rudraprayag district of Garhwal was able to generate 5mW of electricity for his village. Mr.Bhandari designed his own turbine and started generating power by putting his water mill to use. Due to his excellent effort, all 51 houses of his village have access to light. Mr.Bhandari has provided one bulb per household and charges Rs.10 per month for his service.

Ramesh Dhobal, activist involved with water mill movement says, "negligence and failure to improve the capacity of the traditional Gharat has resulted in the decay and closure of Gharats." Still, in the backward hilly areas, these units are doing excellent work, he elaborates.

'Gharat Flour' fetches more:

Generally water millers in the Himalayan region had been ignored though they had been involved in the grinding of grains. Moreover, in the erstwhile UP hills --and now Uttaranchal-- they have been paying Rs.60 as taxes to the state government since British time but they were never included in district level plans. In an attempt to empower water millers, the first ever National Convention of Water Millers was held in New Delhi two years ago. The millers in the convention demanded grant of soft loans for the upgradation of their units. Due to the repeated efforts of water millers and NGOs, the Ministry of Small Scale and Cottage Industry has recently announced the status of 'cottage industry' to the water mills.

In Uttaranchal, many water millers are marketing flour produced from their upgraded water mills under the brand name 'Gharat Flour'. Much to their surprise the flour is getting a good response from the local market!

The scene today:

Anupam Trivedi has captured in his article a whole Himalayan way of life revolving around water mills. A name that keeps cropping up in this connection is that of Dr.Anil Joshi who is in many ways the first to see the need to revive the Gharat. His organisation HESCO has been working very close to the scene in Uttaranchal. In 12 years he has created over 150 neo-Gharats. Still in the same range, but with a more structured approach, the highly respected Tata Energy Research Institute [TERI] has been at work. Joining hands with IT Power, UK and the Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, University of Roorkee, TERI has actually computed the benfits of technology refit of Gharats. With redesigned runner, bearings and flume the TERI Gharat was pitted against the traditional one to grind 25kG of maize. Coarse grinding rates fell from from 5 hours to 20 minutes and fine grinding from 10 hours to 2.5 hours. Lower total cost of ownership and freedom from maintenance were other benefits. Under a UNDP/GEF programme many new TERI mills are to be installed both for power generation and milling.

Further upscale, the work with SHP gets formal. When the Indian state finally does swing into action, it doesn't do things by half. It throws Indian bureucracy's management skills into high gear. Thus the Central Electricity Authority has carried surveys of potential sites and the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources [DNES] has today in its database precise information on about 4000 locations in over 8 states that can yield 10,000mW-- that is nearly 60% of the total 15,000mW potential.

Next, state governments were nudged to modify archaic laws and prepare grounds for enticing investors. It turns out 13 states have an interest in developing SHP. Look at this surprising list: Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, West Bengal, Maharashtra and -- hold your hats, Rajasthan! They have already modified legislation and several offer attractive packages of land use, tax breaks and other lollies.

First off the block seems to be Himachal Pradesh, the state with the most potential. It has a website that claims that 86 projects [mostly in the <3mW range] are under implementation. DNES says that between 1989 and 2001 power generated by <3mW stations rose from 64 to 240mW. The push is now to get commercial ventures in the near 25mW range going. About 8 manufacturers in India can supply all the required hardware.

That's the micro hydel scene. Most of us must admit that we were not aware of all this churning. That is the case about many things in India. While we fix our attention on the sensation of the moment, the Indian juggernaut rolls on unstoppably - learning, experimenting and innovating. The HESCO site claims that Abdul Gani Bhat a 104 year miller still operates in the mountains. Like India itself he still goes on, not by being rigid but by changing as the need dictates.




Mill in a stream

GoodNewsIndia has been unable to get the rights to publish some very informative photographs of old and new water mills that appear elsewhere on the Internet. You may click this link to view them in a separate window.