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Ideas For India

Jul 06, 2004
People-sized desalination

It is odd that in India we always seek grand solutions when small ones will do. Huge dams, linking of rivers and centrally managed food supply are all examples of this thinking.

Take drinking water. The shame of Nalagonda, a district in Andhra Pradesh is enough to offset the whole laundry list of achievements in IT, aerospace and nuclear technologies. Here, 670,000 people --well over half a million!--, spread amongst 674 villages, have been irreversibly afflicted by an excess of fluoride in the groundwater. BBC has some harrowing images that tell the story. This has been going on since 1975 and successive governments have not solved the problem. But what were they trying? Here’s a quote from a report in InfoChange site: “...we come by an idle water purifier plant. It’s one of the many non-working systems built under the Netherlands Assisted Project (NAP). From 1975 till 1990, the state government received Rs 170 crore from the NAP to help solve the fluoride contamination problem.”

With that idea rusting to death, the current plan is even grander: “Experts believe that supplying water from the SLBC [Srisailam Left bank Canal] is the only way to tackle the fluorosis problem. But, although the project has been included in the Five Year Plans, and allocations made in the state’s annual budget, doubts are still being raised about how to channelise the water. Twelve years have passed since the plan was first proposed. This inexcusable delay has increased its cost, from the original Rs 200 crore to Rs 700 crore.” The target date for water to arrive in pipes was June, 2004.

Elsewhere in the same India, someone was working at an appropriate solution. Only—despite our claims in communications technologies—the ones in need of the solution and the provider of it, do not know how to connect. The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute [CMSCRI], Bhavnagar, Gujarat has developed an ox driven desalination plant capable of producing 600 to 700 litres of potable water per hour. All it takes is Rs 2.5 lakhs per plant and a sturdy pair of oxen; no power, no pipelines, no canals. CMSCRI director Dr P K Ghosh says that a unit is already operating in Bengal’s 24-Parganas district and several more are being planned for border areas of Rajasthan.

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