Tuesday, 21 August 2007

ACTIVE MINDS OF INDIA

What would one do if she has to run a washing machine without electricity? Ask Remya Jose of Kerala. “Innovate”, she would say. The girl from Kizhattoor in Kerala felt the need for a manual washing machine that would not require a miniscule of wattage. No wonder then she was featured by the Discovery television channel – in the programme Beyond Tomorrow – as one of the young innovators. The programme was a joint initiative of the channel and National Innovation Foundation.

While studying in tenth standard, young Remya had to manage household chores (“like washing all the clothes”) with her twin sister. Their mother was ill and father was battling cancer. It was then, Remya thought of coming up with the manual machine.

But what exactly she did? Speaking from Kerala (India), Remya describes her innovation. The young inventor attached a pedalling device with a chain to a cylinder made of iron net wire. “The whole set up is placed in a chamber made of galvanised aluminium. The chamber is filled with water and soap; clothes weighing about five kilograms are put in the cylinder. By pedalling for about four to five minutes the cylinders are rotated at a high speed. The whole process gets the clothes washed. Then the soap water drains out and the process is repeated”, she says.

Daughter of school teacher parents, Remya is currently pursuing B Tech degree in Calicut. Her immediate priority is to focus on her studies and also plan some science-based projects. In the long run, she wants to pursue higher qualifications. “But I do not want to go abroad. I want to stay in this country and work for the benefit of my country”, Remya has no doubt about her future.
When asked about her message to young active minds, she says: “Do not bother about the mistakes you might be making. Try hard to implement your ideas”.

And nurturing more such active minds is the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), an autonomous society set up in March 2000, by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. NIF takes the initiative for developing innovations by using traditional knowledge of communities and individuals to solve their problems.

Professor Dr Anil Gupta of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, who is closely associated with NIF, says: “We invite people to come up with their innovations and ideas. The entries could come from farmers, artisans, fishermen and women, slum dwellers, workshop mechanics, students or just about anybody”. The innovations could be gadgets, implements, processes for better farm operations, household utility items, methods for efficient transportation and energy conservation and the like. “There are about 65 thousand innovations under the purview of NIF”, Gupta informs. He mentions an implement invented by Jaya Sheelan of Madurai in Tamilnadu, by which the coconut husk can be removed. Mohammed Meer combined radio with a solar-powered lantern. Asit Dey of Bankura in West Bengal developed a variety of high-yield paddy. “They are excellent examples of the ingenuity of Indians”, Gupta is ecstatic as he rolls out the long list of indigenous marvels.

Though several of these inventions have been granted patent in the US, it is a different story in India so far. Indian patents are elusive and the Indian corporate sector is yet to promote these innovations. “So far we have not seen any such move”, Gupta says. But he hopes things will get better. “Already the inventions have been manufactured and used at the macro level as small entrepreneurs pay for them”, the professor informs. Referring to the 25 to 30 volunteers at the NIF, Padma Shri awardee Gupta says: “Though our strength and budget have been limited we endeavour to provide value addition to the inventions”. In this context he mentions Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, which is part of the Honey Bee Network. Gupta provides backgrounder: “The Network is an unique initiative to augment the knowledge of poor people and utilise their innovative potentials”. For the last ten years the Network and Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions have been scouting innovations, he adds. The effort would continue and Gupta hopes more innovations would come into fore.