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PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:41 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
New vistas in construction


Has bamboo's time arrived? The high cost of inputs going into conventional construction is beginning to push more people in the direction of alternatives, and this was topic of a recent seminar at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Ashwin Mahesh has more.

7 January 2008 - "You have to go about seeking efficiency in a way that projects are marked not merely by good natural resource management, but also by innovation in either product process, or in the way that you offer tangible benefits to your customer," says C Hariharan, CEO of Biodiversity Conservation (India) Limited (BCIL). Hariharan, an architect and a property developer - I use the word advisedly, given how perjorative 'developer' has become in this city - was speaking at a recently held seminar on "Bamboo in the Building Industry: Prospects and Potential" at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (Full disclosure: I moderated the discussion at the event).

"This means costs cannot be addressed as a one-dimensional challenge, but in light of other factors too - aesthetics, function, ease of execution, environmental sustainability, and time," says Hariharan. His argument goes beyond showing how to weave money-saving into a range of other considerations. Instead, as he tells it, 'alternate' construction that shies away from conventional brick and mortar is actually cheaper and more appropriate in many cases. So, it ought to be possible to pitch economic value to potential consumers, and in addition inspire them with ecologically sensible choices and creative design.

A bamboo joint used in cluster housing at Wardha. Pic: Vaibhav Kaley, Wonder Grass.

Moreover, in his narrative, community-building seems perfectly comfortable co-existing alongside the individualism that appears to drive so much consumption today. Hariharan says communities can strive for autonomy from external providers of many services, something that many Bangaloreans might aspire to given the iffy state of public utilities in the city. He speaks of six strands of sustainability - Earth, Energy, Water, Waste, Air and Vegetation - that any project can aim for. Listening to him makes you imagine communities with such integrity and autonomy, and hoping that you too might inhabit one of them one day; BCIL says it is developing such communities.

Bamboo - the potential and promise

While Hariharan's talk set the conversation amidst a larger canvas, the immediate focus of the gathering was on bamboo, specifically. Hariharan's talk was followed by a presentation from the well-known architect G R Jaigopal, recently the winner of the 2007 International Bamboo Building Design Competition in the 'Urban Buildings' category. Jaigopal took the audience through an impressive array of slides showing the construction of his office in Kochi, pointing to various technical choices made at different stages of construction. Built in 2002, this building uses 70-80 per cent less steel than a typical building like it, and makes wide use of bamboo. It also includes a rainwater catchment pond, and an anaerobic natural wastewater treatment system.

The successes of Hariharan and Jaigopal naturally raised the question: is there some reason why bamboo-based construction should not capture a larger chunk of the building industry than it now has? Many participants were no doubt keen to see that happen, and Jaigopal believed it was eminently doable. He argued that even large-scale projects were not necessarily outside the competence of 'alternate' construction. A few architects and entrepreneurs specialising in bamboo, for example, could pitch together for a large-scale project such as the upcoming construction of a posh hotel in the city. Doing so, he said, would also be a kind of advocacy for more bamboo-based construction, in turn leading to more opportunities.

Has bamboo's time arrived? Crude oil is selling at $100 a barrel on world markets, and virtually every significant component of conventional buildings requires huge inputs of oil for its production. Bamboo is abundant in India, fast-growing and self-replenishing. Maybe now, the economics of conventional construction will force more people to look at alternatives, and bamboo can become financially attractive too.

An important bottleneck that needs to be overcome is in the supply of suitably processed bamboo for various projects.

Vaibhav Kaley, whose company Wonder Grass organised the seminar, agrees. Kaley, himself the son of the legendary Vinoo Kaley - who was known as the Bamboo Man - says that he has a number of people asking whether their construction projects can be executed with bamboo, and he tells them that besides being distinctive, their buildings could end up being cheaper too. Structures that need to be renovated periodically, like buildings in holiday villages and resorts, are especially suitable for construction with bamboo, because refurbishing them would be so much cheaper than knocking down brick-and-mortar buildings and rebuilding them.

An important bottleneck that needs to be overcome is in the supply of suitably processed bamboo for various projects. The National Mission on Bamboo Applications (NMBA), a technology mission of the Department of Science and Technology, itself acknowledges that despite wide-spread availability of bamboo, it is difficult for product developers to source sufficient stocks at reasonable prices, and to find convenient processing centres for stocks when they are available. While the establishment costs of processing units are only a few lakh rupees, there are only a dozen or so such units in the country creating finished products. The supply chain for providing bamboo to these processing centres needs to be seamlessly linked to its consumption in construction projects, says Kaley, who is himself sourcing bamboo from two centres, one each in Maharashtra and Kerala. If the logistics improve, then a lot more people can use the steely grass for a much wider range of applications.

How does an entrepreneur go about tapping the emerging opportunity in bamboo? Should he try to build modular pieces (walls, doors, floors, etc) that can be used in a number of different projects, or should he offer fully-constructed buildings that use alternate material inputs wherever suitable. The former approach, says Hariharan, may work better for small entrepreneurs who do not have the capital needed to execute projects on their own. But he agrees that communities like the one he is building can have fantastic catalytic effects, because they are permanent standing evidence of the potential of alternate construction, and thus obtain a lot of mind-space among future buyers.

Government support

Particularly encouraging for budding entrepreneurs is the fact that a fair bit of government subsidy and support is available. NMBA develops machinery and process technologies, and also does research on construction applications. One of its focus areas is supporting small-scale enterprises engaged in bamboo applications. The Composites Technology Park at Kengeri, southwest of Bangalore, has developed a number of processing capabilities, and is encouraging entrepreneurs to use its facilities for trial runs of their business ideas. The director, Dr R Gopalan said an impressive range of capabilities has been developed in India, comparable to those in advanced countries.

A number of participants at the seminar endorsed the idea of establishing a private-sector organisation to bring together various capabilities, and to facilitate faster adoption of bamboo in construction and other projects. A 'NASSCOM-like' body is needed, they said, referring to the software industry's lobbying arm, the National Association of Software Services Companies, which has had a strong influence on government policies and incentives in that sector. One possible focus for such an organisation may also be the establishment of a building code for bamboo-based construction in India. While some aspects of bamboo use in construction have been benchmarked, there is still a need for a comprehensive code, without which project developers will hesitate to adopt bamboo widely, says Kaley. ⊕

Ashwin Mahesh
7 January 2008

Ashwin Mahesh is a co-founder and editor at India Together.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:05 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Bamboo man


One man's vision to make this grass an essential element of the industrial base.
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Bamboo is perhaps one of the most under-utilised natural resources of the country. This is the story of one man's vision to make this grass an essential element of the industrial base, and not merely a part of the handicrafts industry. Here is a glimpse of a passionately creative journey that has shown pathways for the kind of development in which every last Indian benefits.

Vinoo Kaley was an architect turned artisan and activist. Over the last two decades Vinoo came to be known among social activists, across the country, as "the bamboo man". He was usually to be found working among traditional bamboo artisans, making and helping to design bamboo products that could be used even in modern urban life. At other times he was lobbying with bureaucrats, talking to students, scientists and other professionals.

Venu Bharati - a comprehensive volume on Bamboo was finalised by Vinoo Kaley just days before he died of a heart attack in June 1998. He was 52 years old. The book has now been lovingly produced by his colleagues and was released at Wardha on June 11. This book is an account of Vinoo's journey and his bond with Venu, one of the many Sanskrit names for bamboo. Here bamboo is the central point of a larger vision for a different, smarter, kind of development.

National Mission on Bamboo Applications (NMBA)
This alternative approach would make more efficient and rational use of natural resources in ways that create far more livelihood opportunities than the current policies can ever provide. This is a vision in which artisans become a vital and sizable segment of the industrial base, instead of just manufacturing handicrafts.

Bamboo is one of the world's best natural engineering materials. Its strength to weight ratio is better than that of teak wood and mild steel. Bamboo grows much faster than wood and requires relatively little water. It can also be recurrently harvested. Ample bamboo cover enriches the soil by arresting erosion and taming flash floods. It offers stakes to trees, fodder to animals and food to humans. This makes bamboo a key element in maintaining the ecological balance and ensuring sustainable food and livelihood security.

India is home to almost 45 per cent of the world's bamboo forests. But irrational and inefficient harvesting gives us ridiculously low yields. India produces 4.5 million tonnes of bamboo in about 8.96 million hectares of forest. China grows 11.6 million tones of bamboo in about 3.79 million hectares of forest. The uses to which the bamboo is put are also not optimal. For instance, Vinoo calculated that a tonne of bamboo creates upto 350 person days of work in the artisanal sector. By contrast it creates 12 person days in a paper mill which also needs large quantities of water and electricity. Vinoo's energy was focussed on expanding a bamboo sector" which would not only boost the traditional bamboo artisans but give livelihood to millions of others.

Bamboo can be used to produce many items of daily use that are currently made out of plastic or other less eco-friendly materials. Vinoo Kaley had made his home a living illustration of this with a mechanical door-bell, soap-dishes, utensil-racks, beds, tables and chairs - all made out of bamboo. Yet this is a tiny part of the potential for bamboo as an industry.

For example, bamboo mat-boards are an excellent substitute for plywood. This technology was originated by the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun and developed further by the Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute, Bangalore. This technology is partly handicraft-based, thus generating employment.

Yet another kind of bamboo mats and grids can be used to build better, more long-lasting asphalt roads. These techniques have been successfully tested by two Mumbai based engineers, K. R. Datye and V. N. Gore. A similar bamboo grid can also be used as an alternative for wire-netting gabions which are used for flood control, soil erosion and slope stabilisation.

Shriniwas Khare, an industrialist in Mulshi taluk of Maharashtra, uses bamboo to manufacture natural fibre-reinforced plastic composites and products. The fibres are meshed together with suitable resins to produce a dense matrix of high strength comparable with metals. Yet it is relatively lightweight, water- proof and corrosion resistant. The result is posts for fencing and house construction, gratings for factories and panels for use in various kinds of furniture.

Venu Bharati is both a documentation of the various bamboo species of India and also an analysis of how and why this resource is being misused. India is perhaps the only country that uses almost 60 percent of its annual bamboo crop to make paper. This is a stark illustration of resource illiteracy, since there are many better sources of pulp for paper.

Vinoo spent almost 15 years lobbying against the government selling bamboo to big industry at absurdly low rates. The answer, he insisted, was a true free market in which industry is made to pay the actual cost of raw materials. Such a free market, Vinoo argued, would give a boost to alternative and dynamic technology shifts. By bringing paper to its real price, the free market would reduce paper consumption and encourage more recycling. If every bamboo stick was worth more, there would be a market incentive for afforestation and rejuvenation of wastelands by planting bamboo.

This aspect of Vinoo's appeal has got very little attention. But his clamour for greater attention to bamboo did have an impact. In Maharashtra, the government finally made larger quantities of bamboo available to craftsmen. Last year, the Ministry of Environment set up a Bamboo Cell which subsequently outlined an action plan for the development of the bamboo sector. Among other things, this plan calls for the setting up of a Bamboo Promotion Agency by 2001. But it offers little hope of any vital, strategic measures which will employ the market mechanism to boost bamboo cultivation and products. And this is perhaps the biggest obstacle to optimum utilisation of bamboo.

Even Vinoo's book raises a plethora of "how to" questions which are left unanswered. But then Vinoo never claimed to have all the answers. He worked in a poetic and lyrical manner to raise venu mitra - bamboo friends, across India - from the corridors of power, to remote villages and everywhere in-between. Vinoo had his own "logic" for this dogged persistence in the face of all odds. For he used to say: "A goods train won't move by my pushing it, or even by getting ten others to help in pushing it. But our action may inspire someone to get an engine!"

Rajni Bakshi
September 2000

The original version of this article appeared in The Hindu's online edition, dated July 02, 2000. Venu Bharati is published by Aproop Nirman, B2 Pushpagandha, Dharmpeth, Nagpur - 440010.

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 2:59 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
That 'new type' house


A university professor in Shimoga had the fore-sight to make his home nearly autonomous from various public utilities, and alongside do his part for the environment. And when his neighbours were slow to learn, he set out to educate them too. Shree Padre reports.

17 January 2008 - At the house-warming ceremony in this new home in Shimoga's Lal Bahadur Shastri Nagar, Dr Sreepathi presented all the guests with a specially written booklet, printed at considerable expenditure to himself, about roof water harvesting. He had decided, during construction, that he would harvest the rain falling on his roof, choosing this option first, and digging an open well only later.

And having made his choice, he decided he would teach others about it too. "Showing by practice is the best way", he says politely. The house, constructed four years ago, has a total capacity to store 30,000 litres of rain water. A 20,000-litre tank is under the dining hall. The other one, with half as much capacity, is beneath the portico. "Won't worms grow in the stored rainwater?" A lot of visitors to his home ask this question, and Sreepathi, true to his 'showing by practice' way, decided to test the water in the tank in April 2005. Despite having been stored for months since the previous monsoon, the water was still potable.

As it turned out, for Sreepathi, the choice of a harvesting system in preference to relying on the open well was prudent too in more than one way. The first problem was that the well yielded slightly saline water, and the roof-top rains were therefore much needed for cooking and drinking. Moreover, since the construction of the house, Sreepathi has been measuring the water level in his well every month, and he's been thankful not to have relied on it much. "Though I'm recharging my open well, the annual decline rate of water table around here is alarming. It was 18 feet below ground in April 2004. Two years later, it had fallen to 23.5 feet. A decline of 5.5 feet in just two seasons", he worries.

Total ecology

The house, in fact, is a total harvesting zone for rain water. Excess water from the sump is used to recharge the ground well. Even grey water, i.e. water that has been already used for washing and bathing, isn't wasted, either. A separate open pit is constructed at the back of the house to gather this; every morning, Sreepathi manually fills this water in a rose can to drench his vegetable plants. Even in summer, the plants don't require separate fresh water.

Picture: Grey water is used for irrigating the family's kitchen garden.

The family's eco-friendly practices are much older than the house itself. For the last 12 years, they haven't taken any waste material outside their compound; instead, it's composted and used for their kitchen garden. Sreepathi uses a bicycle for his local trips, while his wife Mamatha, a college lecturer, moves on an electric-powered moped.

Whenever the sun permits, cooking in the home is done using a solar cooker. Hot water for bathing is also obtained courtesy of the sun. Indeed, so much is the home's reliance on solar power that the house is itself named Vibha, a Sanskrit word for the sun. Even during the nights, it's the sun that keeps the house lit, thanks to solar lights that store charge during the day in batteries. The house's careful design also permits natural air-flow. During summer, air flows from south west direction. To guide that air-flow inside, the north side windows are fitted with vertical projections called wind breaks. Surprisingly, there is no electric fan or light inside the home. Electricity has only two uses here - for the motor pump and for the fridge. Though municipal water is available, Vibha hasn't taken a connection.

The roof is twelve feet above the floor. The height and the hollowness of the roofing material keep the interiors cool. The terra-cotta hollow tiles have air gaps inside. These act as insulation and reduce heat transfer. Compared to concrete, the thermal conductivity of clay - from which these roofs are made - is much lower. As such, the heat transfer is lesser. A solar-powered exhaust fan connected to a PVC pipe from inside the tanka opens into the bed room on the first floor. Once it is switched on, it facilitates the cool air to come up and enter the room. "All these arrangements keep the house 2 to 3 degrees cooler than the neighboring houses", points out Sreepathi.

There are houses elsewhere in the state that have adopted only water harvesting, or solar lighting, and a few have both. But Sreepathi is yet to come across a house that has as many eco-friendly features as his Vibha.

Mental blocks

Vibha draws many visitors. Every week 2-3 people come to have a look at that 'new type house'. That makes a minimum of 500 visitors a year. "Though there are water shortages, very few people get convinced about rainwater harvesting", observes Mamatha, "One major mental block is about the potability of stored rain water. The impression is that the tap water is best. Those who construct new houses don't mind getting granite stone all the way from Rajasthan, and paying for that. Still, for them, the one-time investment for rain harvesting appears to be expensive."

Interest in eco-friendly housing is luke-warm, says Sreepathi, because engineers and contractors don't endorse this. Also, for most people, eco-friendliness is attractive only if they can see the economic benefit of it, and with the power tariff still low, there is no incentive to move towards solar lighting.

Adds Sreepathi, "Even if they save 10 per cent in the expenditure on flooring, they can make a dependable arrangement for water. Rs.30,000-40,000 would provide them a good storage structure that will provide year round water."

Take Shimoga's Ashwathanagar locality, for example. Houses here don't have municipal water supply. Not a single open well here has water. The number of bore wells is increasing. Though they have Sreepathi's live example nearby, they don't mind waiting for hours in queues for the tanker water than independently tapping the rain. Recently, as a result of Sreepathi's constant encouragement, two families - that of Madhava Shastry and D S Ramakrishna - have now started utilising rain. "In the entire city, only about 35 families that are harvesting rain", tells Sreepathi with disappointment, "Except these examples, the city is far far behind in water literacy."

To fix that, the professor has been spending considerable time and efforts to popularise rain water harvesting in and around Shimoga. At Jawaharalal Nehru National College of Engineering where he works, he has floated an organisation, Chirantana Club to create awareness about sustainable living. He himself has written dramas on water conservation and had them enacted by students. In the last three years, he has held 60 awareness programmes on rain harvesting, on request by various organisations.

In 2002, a group of good-hearted citizens had started a Task Force for Rain Water Harvesting in Shimoga to offer guidance to those interested. Elsewhere in Karnataka, thanks to media coverage, thousands are interested in harvesting rain on their own, but unfortunately, there is nobody to show them how. In Shimoga, the irony is that a band of people who are ready to guide others do not find many takers.

Of late, the situation is slowly changing, perhaps as a result of increasing need for the citizens to have autonomous solutions. Sreepathi himself has guided a few families in the recent past. One outstanding project out of this is at the cultural centre Gamaka Bhavan at Hosahally, in the outskirts of the city where a 1.75 lakh litres tank is being constructed below the stage. The top of the tank would be the dais. ⊕

Shree Padre
17 Jan 2008

Shree Padre is a journalist with many years of experience in agricultural reporting. He is the author of several books, including one on rainwater harvesting, published by Altermedia. Dr Sreepathi can be contacted at (08182) 274 952, Mobile: 94480 00643, or sreepathi_lk@hotmail.com.

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:46 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Water meters help consumers, suppliers


With a properly metered water bill, consumers have a much better chance of being heard than otherwise. Yes, there are justified concerns about rights and equity when we talk of water, but metering is not anti-poor. In fact, used well, it can address their demands powerfully, says S Vishwanath.

22 November 2006 - I was sitting in the office of G S Manjunath, Assistant Executive Engineer of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), when a group of people came in with their complaints. This was a vocal group - predominantly women, and from a slum area, the Engineer told me later. Each of them had a water bill in hand; they were saying quite loudly that they had received no water for the last month but still had received a bill! A look at some of the bills, typically under Rs.100, confirmed their claim that they had received no water - the opening and closing meter readings for the month were identical. Manjunath promised to visit the slum the same afternoon, and sort out the problem. The exchange had been lively, but it was clear that the people had a genuine complaint, and the AEE was quick to accept that.

What turned the argument in favour of the slum dwellers? The bills, and the meter reading displayed in them. Metering is clearly beneficial to consumers; their consumption is measured reliably and they pay only for what they have used. With the meter reading on their bill, consumers now have a legitimate document to show their access or non-access to water. Consumers can also moderate their consumption, if they wish to keep their bills lower.

Pros and cons

Metering is also of considerable help to the water supplier, whose main concern is the measurement of leaks. Euphemistically called Unaccounted-for water (UFW), it is possible to know the extent of this loss only when the supplier measures both the volume pumped into the city as well as the total volume that is actually delivered to the end users. Without metering, it is virtually impossible to get a meaningful measure of transmission and distribution losses. With metering, the supplier can also understand levels of consumption and patterns of variation among consumers; with such knowledge, it can then fix volumetric tariffs that reward the water-efficient and collects more from those who consume more. Planning a water supply network becomes easier, in this scenario. Also, the legitimate consumer is rewarded when leaks are minimised and tariff collection is based on efficient water supply.

Despite its advantages, metering is by no means common; most small towns in India with piped water systems collect water payments as a cess on top of property taxes that are levied, and in some cases they have a flat rate tariff. In Karnataka, for cities that are not designated as corporations, the flat tariff is fixed as a minimum of Rs.45 per month. However the government, which has to bear the cost of supply itself if it is not paid for by users, wants to moved towards metering for all connections, and a volumetric tariff to determine the bill amounts for each user.

Not all customers petition the supplier to heed their complaints. Salma Sadiqa, who works with the board to improve access to water for low income groups, says people sometimes simply remove the meter, if they get no water. Without a meter, they expect they will not get a bill.

But metering has some disadvantages too. Since most towns and cities in India still do not have meters, there is a significant cost that will be involved in installing meters and thereafter maintaining them. If this cost is to be borne by the consumers - as in the case of Bangalore, which levies a one-time charge for meter installation; subsequent maintenance of the meter is the supplier's responsibility - this may end up inhibiting connections to poorer consumers. Meters also can break down. If there is intermittent supply they can show wrong readings. Meters also need people to record their readings, and this cost may be high. There is also the distinct possibility of tampering, to make meters show wrong readings. Collusion and corruption in metering and billing is also not to be forgotten. Advances in technology and e-administration are constantly tackling some of these issues, and these risks might diminish over time.

Meters and the right to water

Is metering in conflict with the right of people to get access to a minimum quantity of water for their basic needs? In fact the opposite is true. In South Africa, for example, each family is entitled to 6000 litres of water per month without charge, and it is the right of every family to access this volume of water. The UN Human Development report suggests 20 litres of water per capita per day as the appropriate volume to be provided by right. How do governments ensure that this right is met? How can the state be held accountable to such a promise? Meters - and working meters at that - could ensure that governments stand up to their commitments. Without such measurement, there is no way of knowing whether a specified minimum quantity is being supplied to every family.

How about connection charges? Should customers pay for connecting meters to a supply stream they're entitled to by right? For the poor, this may become a practical difficulty in exercising the right, even if it was protected under law (which it is not, in India). Subsidies will have to be worked out to overcome this. In Bangalore for certain geographical areas if the house plinth area is less than 600 square feet residents pay a nominal connection charge of Rs.800. The meter charge is Rs.550 and the sewage connection charge is Rs.250 A plan is also under consideration to waive completely the connection charge for those below the poverty line.

It is the same story in villages. The Gram Panchayaths have been handed the responsibility for maintaining the village water supplies, in the spirit of decentralisation. Many are now discovering the huge electricity bills they have to pay for pumping water from bore wells. This money has to be recovered from the end users, at least to cover the operations and maintenance cost. Devaraj Reddy, a hydro-geologist and a rainwater harvester of repute, quotes the example of Hebbali village in Hosadurga Taluk Chitradurga District Karnataka. About 250 families reside here. The water sources are two bore wells which pump water to an overhead tank of 50,000 litres. Water is then supplied to each household. The village water and sanitation committee has ensured connection to each household and metered it. People pay a water charge based on consumption, and the number of members in the family dwelling. The village water committee constantly strives to ensure equitable access to water for all and collects revenue to pay for the system maintenance. Metering has helped the system immensely.

The future

Surely metering will become the order of the day in both urban and rural piped water supply systems. Efficient and equitable use of water demands that this natural resource be managed sustainably, and metering is a key part of the solution to that challenge. Even when bore well is the source of water, whether for agricultural, domestic or industrial purpose, a meter will be the measure of water use and help manage water better. Understanding its advantages, and carefully planning to minimise potential problems, can help us move towards a metered regime faster. ⊕

S Vishwanath
22 Nov 2006

S Vishwananth works with the Rainwater Club (www.rainwaterclub.org), and is interested in sustainable water management practices, including rainwater harvesting and ecological sanitation.

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:47 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
The bills we pay, and the ones we don't


Our personal choices directly impact the pressure on managing infrastructure support that we all need for energy, water, and waste management, writes Chandrashekar Hariharan.

24 July 2010 - Have you looked at your energy bill recently? What is the amount you pay every month for power? For water? Have you asked yourself what the break up of power used in your house is? Do you realise how much of the power bill is coming out of use of your geysers? How much is used by fans, your lighting, your TV set, the grinder and mixer in the kitchen, or worse that electric oven that your mother gifted you on your last birthday? How much of the power is used in your kitchen by the refrigerator, may be the heating plate, and such other appliances that didn't exist even 30 years ago?

Your water bill is so small every month that you don't even need to think about it. How much do we use as water in the shower, how much at the wash basin when you brush your teeth or wash your face, how much do you drain down the flush tanks, for washing vegetables and meat, for cooking, for swabbing, for your gardens, for your carwash?

If you paused and reflected on what this means to the government, it would be a sobering experience. But then you could well say, "How can what I use at my house make such a big difference for the government or whoever supplies me power and water?" Or another legitimate response could be, "Anyway I pay my taxes - income tax, property tax, development cess, and such. I should be entitled to these things from the government".

Look at it another way. If you stop using the two geysers in your house, you will drop the demand load by 4 KW. And if Bangalore's 500,000 houses did the same, there'd be a drop in demand load of as much as 2000,000 kilowatts, or 2000 MW. To give you a perspective, the city today enjoys [or suffers?] a total demand load for power of under 10,000 MW. The daily power cuts that you endure now would be almost gone, by this one act alone - no geysers, no power cuts. And if you can.t get yourself to make that effort of scrapping the geyser, at least ensure that you put it on only in the non-peak load hours, when the pressure on the system is not so high?

Every one unit that you save at home results in saving of 10 units of generation.

Every state of India and the country as a whole is reeling under power shortage. We have a massive 50 per cent chasm between supply and demand. We have no way of creating more power-generating stations, without putting at peril our rivers, our mountains and forests. We know the dangers of creating nuclear power stations. We are today dependent up to 80 per cent on our coal-fired thermal stations like the one at Raichur, or Neyveli or Ramagundam. The future clearly shows that we cannot generate as much power as we managed to do in the past 50 years.

There is also the cost the government incurs to generate energy. It is way beyond what we pay. In Pondicherry people pay a paltry Re.1.50 per unit consumed while it costs about Rs.18 per unit for the government to produce/procure the power. Who bears the deficit? In Bangalore we pay Rs.4 per a unit on an average. In Gujarat, Kerala and AP, people pay a little over Rs.8 a unit used. In Tamilnadu the tariff for homes is about Rs.5. These deficits in cost recovered will guarantee that this route of power generation and distribution with massive subsidies will not sustain for too many years.

The solution is not generation, as much as energy efficiency: how do we change the way we do things to save energy. Every one unit that you save at home results in saving of 10 units of generation. And that's a lot of money saved on the exchequer, for every MW we have to produce as a country costs about USD 2 billion, or Rs 10,000 crores. It's a senseless number that only leaves the residual image of how many minions in the bureaucracy and starchy businessmen line their pockets with the monies that flow.

When you talk of water, again you can see that it is not about water cost as much as it is about water management. Installing a simple set of aerators or flow restrictors at every tap and shower head in your house will save up to 35,000 liters every year. If there are 500,000 houses, just this set of aerators at Rs.2000 a house can save the city up to 35-40 million liters every day - that's against the city's total demand of 800 million liters a day. If you've decided to treat all the waste water that your kitchen and toilet put out, and if you use this recycled water to meet your flush tank needs, or of your gardens, you will have dropped demand for water in your house by 60 per cent. That amounts to about 400 liters a day to a family of four. For 500,000 houses this means 200 million liters a day! This is one-quarter of today's daily demand in the city.

Two startling facts

Bangaloreans in particular will be shocked to know two very startling facts. One is that we get no more than 250 million liters a day in the city from all four phases of the Cauvery Water Supply plan. There is no more water that Cauvery can give us since it is a finite source. The rest of the water in the city is today being met with over 5 lakh borewells that have increased the demand load for power by as much as 1.2 million MW in the last 20 years alone! In every large and small city, this is the reality: 75 per cent is drawn from groundwater reserves of the earth.

The second startling fact we should know is that we pay only Rs.6 for every 1000 liters that the Water Supply Board gives us. If you bought a tanker of water, you pay up to Rs.30 a kiloliter, which is 5 times the Water Supply Board cost. The Water Supply Board itself spends as much Rs.19 per kilo liter for the water that they give you at Rs.6! Can you see the massive losses that we are all incurring as a city? Is this viable? Can you do something about it to see that you drop the demand for fresh water by 50 per cent in your house?

All this can be done by you without having to either spend too much money or forego any comfort or convenience. What is more, you save on your power bills and water bills as you effect these savings and bring efficiency to use of water and power. In the last part of this series, we will address the concept of being grid-free and how the world will necessarily move into such decentralized power generation systems in this decade.

Chandrashekar Hariharan
24 Jul 2010

Chandrashekar Hariharan is CEO of Biodiversity Conservation India, the Bangalore-based pioneer of green buildings. (Full disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh, co-editor of India Together, is a member of the Board of Directors at BCIL).

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:49 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Going upstream on the Energy Road


How does one go about saving energy during construction or in the lifetime of a building when we live in it? A lot of this has to do with your being sensitized to this concept of 'embodied energy', writes Chandrashekar Hariharan.

30 June 2010 - Buildings are not buildings but energy forms. So what can you do about bringing sanity to such energy use when you build? It is useful to remember when you set out to build a house or an office building, a hotel or hospital, that every material that we use is expending energy in different forms, and is releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

In recent years we have come to call this 'grey' or 'embodied' energy. If you recall the tomato allegory from the previous edition of this column, when you next go to the vegetable market, look at vegetables you buy and ask yourself how far they have traveled for you to buy them. Typically in our towns and cities, they travel an average of 60 km. This transportation energy in the form of fossil fuels like diesel and petrol, add to the embodied energy of the vegetable. Fertilizers and pesticides that a farmer uses have also traveled very long distances for him to use for cultivation. There is then the electrical energy he uses for those inefficient irrigation pumpsets. All this adds up on the energy tab.

Similarly, when you buy bricks or concrete blocks for your house there is transport and manufacturing energy at various levels upstream that add to the energy used in your building. You could say that for the materials you use for floors, for steel and concrete you use for roofs and columns, the plastering of walls that need cement, the paints that use chemicals that not only need energy for manufacture but claim other energy values on raw materials, the wood that you use for windows and doors, the electrical cabling that uses copper, granite for kitchen slabs, the glass that you use for window panes the fans that you buy, the bulbs and tube lights that you buy ... every single such purchase has high embodied energy because they have traveled many miles and used a good deal of energy in the manufacture.

Here is a pie chart that is indicative of how high such energy consumption can be in the process of construction if you are building an air-conditioned office building or house. The rise in our need for greater luxury, and our greater ability to afford them with the money we earn has increased exponentially in recent years the extent of energy used by us for buildings, or for all the things we have learnt to use as gadgets and appliances. The figures are scary: in just the next twenty years we will build as much as we have built as buildings in the last 2000 years!

Time magazine reported some time ago, that in just the 1990s, the world produced as many cars as were made in the entire 20th century! Humans are the only one among over 8 million species that need fossil energy for their living; every other species sustains itself on the 'current sun' and renewable resources that make for their habitats.

Beyond the 'capital ecological cost' of energy expended at time of construction, is the use of energy when you begin to inhabit the place. This is dictated, of course, by the design approach you adopt for building. The higher the energy load that you factor at the time of construction, the greater will be the active energy cost for lighting, heating or cooling, and water heating. The more appliances we use in our kitchen the greater is the energy used. The more spaces we air-condition, the greater is the energy consumed when we live in the building.

Well, so how does one go about saving energy during construction or in the lifetime of a building when we live in it?

A lot of this has to do with your being sensitized to this concept of 'embodied energy'. As long as you can remember that every element in a house - from the finest particles that make the brick or the concrete block, to all other materials that we use - is living and breathing. Even stone lives! But their span of life is so much longer than ours that we think those are dead, inanimate. Stone lives for about a billion years. Sand lives for about 10,000 years. Limestone is formed over about 1 million years.

How far have those vegetables traveled to get to your market?

How do we keep ourselves conscious of this when we buy any material to make that house of ours? That question has many answers. To start with, can you use the earth that you excavate for making a building, into stabilized compressed earth blocks that can avoid use of bricks and concrete blocks? Can you avoid using floors that are from distant places and have used much higher active energy in their manufacture? Italian marble is but one example. Vitrified and ceramic tile is a strict no-no. Can you avoid using forest timber like teak that comes from distant parts - Burma, Cameroon, Indonesia - apart from destroying forests that help sink the high carbon emissions that we have been causing the last century?

In designing your power and water needs, there are many things that you can do to focus on demand-side management. If you assume at the start of any such construction, that you have no power supply that you can expect from the power utility, you will then think differently. Necessity will then drive invention. It is hard for many to believe that there is no government that can offer you energy and water at your doorstep. But if you did come to terms with a reality that lies in the future where governments cannot bring these two resources at least in the same quantum as they did the past 50 years, then you will know how inventive you can become on demand-side management!

In any case, the day is not too far when you will be forced to stop relying on the government for water or energy, or for even collecting the waste from your doorstep. Imagine a day, and many days, when the waste from your house and many hundred other houses in your neighborhood is not collected by some agency! Waste will pile up, your road will stink, there will be mayhem. How does your city remain clean? Where does all the waste that you and I throw up go? When you start thinking about these, you will begin to see the need to make changes in the way you expect the government and other agencies to do their bit to help you.

In the next part of this series, we will engage on how you can save energy every day. We will also discuss how much energy can be saved on a daily basis or annually.

Chandrashekar Hariharan
30 Jun 2010

Chandrashekar Hariharan is CEO of Biodiversity Conservation India, the Bangalore-based pioneer of green buildings. (Full disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh, co-editor of India Together, is a member of the Board of Directors at BCIL).

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:53 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Building green and thinking green


Beyond planting trees, what do we need to be really doing that makes for the difference we seek in use and abuse of resources? Chandrashekar Hariharan presents some directions that consumers, citizens, businessmen need to be taking.

10 May 2010 - Until a hundred years ago as humans we had a simple, uncomplicated biological connect. It was a straight-forward equation: we drew roughly 3000 calories each of energy out of Earth for our food and life's sustenance. Today that number per capita has grown to 100,000 calories. We still need only 3000 calories each to nourish life itself. All the rest of this energy is what we extract from Earth for everything else besides keeping ourselves alive. In some countries, like the US, this per capita number runs at over 200,000 calories.

Some of us are concerned about this. We fret over what we could - and should - really be doing to soften this abuse of resources. Little things fox us in the welter of things that we get to read. What is sustainable development? How can it be started at our homes? Beyond the ceremonial planting of green and getting people to run marathons of various lengths in support of the environment, is there more that we can add to the abstract value of 'sustainability'? What are the little things we can do in our day-to-day lives, to reduce demand for things that people make and market?

Of course, we know that it helps to avoid a plastic bag when you can use a newspaper bag, or a brown bag, or even a jute a bag which you can use for many more years unlike a plastic bag which you throw away in less than a week or after a few uses. Can I avoid using the car when I can use a mobike? Can I avoid using a mobike when I can use a bicycle? Can I avoid using petrol or kerosene or diesel and use other alternate fuels which are renewable?

These are common, and widely-understood ideas of environmental responsibility. And the more of us practising them the better. However, there's actually quite a bit more that you and I can do, without compromise on comfort, with very little as cost incurred, with financial savings that you can gain on energy and water use, and with solutions that are very feasible and within your reach.

Conventional bricks and clay blocks are highly energy intensive. On the other hand, soil-stabilised blocks are naturally baked under the sun, durable, and energy-free. (Above: Soil-stabilised blocks with hydraulic mould.)

You could do more by making an effort to understand the simple equations of the environment around us-at the level of your house, your neighborhood, your city, and the country. Not only that, this can be done without the risk of relapsing into intellectualising it and reflecting on some large and fuzzy concepts of sustainability that 'others' and the government should be practicing. It is possible to understand our ecological footprint and its disastrous consequences, not merely in terms of our own behaviour as consumers, but really in terms of the impact on the environment we make. Such a deeper exercise is something, dear reader, you can bring into your lives with a conscious effort you make to bring respectful balance with nature.

Embodied energy

I've reflected on, and wrestled with, for many years the challenge of 'embodied energy' in the materials we use for many things that we need in the humdrum of daily life. When you look at any material, or at even the foods that you buy in a shopping mall or at the vegetable store, think of the distances they have traveled for them to be accessible to you as a consumer.

The tomatoes you see on the shelves have probably traveled 80-100 km for you to be able to buy them conveniently in your neighbourhood. Touch any thing around you at the table you work at, at home or office, and you know it has had to come from the earth with such raw ore or earth or sand that is extracted, and twisted and shaped into products that you can use. They have had to be carted long distances as raw material to some place of manufacture, and then again transported to market centres that gain access to people like you and I.

Look at the travesty of travel that milk takes on its energy-intense journey from the bowels of a cow or buffalo to the time you drink it. When milked, it is warm. In the complex system of distribution that we have over the last 50 years, we collect it from many, then transport it from multiple centres to one processing plant. We then heat it to over 100 deg C at the dairy plant. We then deep-chill it to below 4 deg C to pasteurize. It is then transported to multiple centres with massive amounts of transportation energy incurred again. You buy the milk sachet, heat the entire liter or two liters, make your coffee or tea with a tenth of the entire hot stuff, and put the rest back in the freezer for use another day!

A nominee to the Ignobel Awards worked on a paper some years ago to compute the energy joules used up in the entire traverse from the buffalo's bowels to the human, and concluded that the equivalent of the energy used per liter of milk - in its entire embodied energy cycle - could light up 75 homes for 3 nights with all lights burning!

You could say the same of the building blocks that have been used to construct the house you live in; or the concrete that was used to build the roof of the house; or the wood that was used from either distant Burma or a remote forest in Cameroon! The energy that we use up in transporting materials is about 40 times the energy that the product sometimes uses for its own making. Sustainability in our homes can be secured more efficiently if we picked on materials that use much less energy - not only in the manufacture, but also in their transport.

When it comes to 'building green' there are some simple questions, driven more out of common knowledge and common sense, that we need to ask: How can I invite wind and the sun into my home without having to face the discomfort of heat that is gained by a house? How can I use painting material which uses less energy, or chemicals in its making? How can I use floors that don't travel many thousand miles before they have reached my house construction site? If I buy Italian marble, you know the thousands of 'carbon miles' it has traveled before it is of use to me in my house. But if I buy Kadapa stone, it has traveled only 200 km if I reside in Chennai or Bangalore.

How can I avoid using materials for my floors that use too much energy in their production-vitrified tile needs a furnace at 1200 degrees Celsius for manufacture, while a natural stone uses no artificial energy and is something that we bring from some geological deposit of either slate stone or marble or any other such stone.

Old wisdom says that if I can use the seed or fruit of the tree for making my living, then I live harmoniously. When I cut a tree, I use the capital of the planet. When I use its seed, I live off the interest. That is the difference - between life that is beyond our ecological means, and sustainable living. In this series of four features, we will discuss other aspects of how you can potentially save energy in the process of construction and post-construction; how energy saving is possible every day and how much can you save on your monthly electricity bills; and the future that spells buildings and housing townships going 'grid free' and why that will make a big difference to the world.

Chandrashekar Hariharan
10 May 2010

Chandrashekar Hariharan is CEO of Biodiversity Conservation India, the Bangalore-based pioneer of green buildings. (Full disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh, co-editor of India Together, is a member of the Board of Directors at BCIL).

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:55 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Grid-free, on the horizon


During the last 100 years, the production and consumption of power happened at two different places, miles away from each other. This will change in the future, writes Chandrashekar Hariharan.

07 August 2010 - In this the fourth article of the series on urban sustainability and energy efficiency, let's look at the new future before us. We call it a future that is zero energy driven.

Clearly over the last four decades, we have seen how the Government can do very little to actually 'solve' the power or the water crises. With every passing year, there is only more money sunk into infrastructure, more 'power corporations' and 'authorities' incorporated, while the yawning deficit on demand-supply widens.

Karnataka has seen, for the first time since Independence, power shortages of up to four hours in the thick of the monsoon, - in a state that used to be dependent on hydel power for many decades, and continues to rely on such water-based power for up to 30 per cent of its total supply. AP used to boast of being 'power-surplus' for well over 15 years. Today, AP's manufacturing sector is nearly ground to a halt in many districts of that state with many plants working two days in a week! The story is as grim in nearly every state and city across India.

So where lies the solution? Can we continue to berate the government for being incapable of offering solutions? Should we turn, overnight as it were, to spartan lives where we cut our use of energy and water, and every appliance that draws energy? What are the solutions for people to incorporate while constructing new homes, or any buildings that we inhabit?

Before we discuss what these Zero Energy Driven (ZED) ways are, and how 'going the ZED way' is possible and affordable in every home, office, hospital and hotel, anywhere, let's step back and take a look at what the last 200 years have offered as market behaviour, to see if there are any lessons in store for how we chalk out plans for our cities for the next quarter century, if not beyond.

Many of the ZED approaches can can be taken by you in new homes, as well as in existing homes with retrofit solutions that don't cost much.

Two hundred years ago, we didn't have what we now know as 'markets'. Small communities produced what they needed, and consumed within their village or settlement. Though sea trade existed, those were for products that a minority of rich persons bought and sold. Up until World War II and after, a vast majority of Indians lived a life that rarely needed the interdependence that markets created, particularly by the 1960s. Recall life in times of your grandfather if you're over 50, and you will know what I mean.

That was a time when the producer and the consumer was one: they were more like 'prosumers'. From the turn of 1800, there was a steady breakdown of this model, with the last 50 years having shown a geometric rise in such reliance on market and distribution. This, of course, served the purpose of reaching things to consumers from mass producers.

It also spawned the need for more transport, and growing prosperity meant the need for more things beyond essentials, into luxuries. Consumerism took its toll on natural resources and their abuse. And the energy that we needed for things beyond life's sustenance grew exponentially. Remember the tomato in the vegetable market and the transport energy it has consumed before reaching your home? Well, it is worse in London where chillies come from Kenya, broccoli from north China and rice from Sri Lanka or Thailand. If you dropped 'food miles' and such embodied transport energy in every little thing that you make or buy, you will make a world of difference!

Many of these ZED approaches can can be taken by you in new homes, as well as in existing homes with retrofit solutions that don't cost much. You may not want to do all of the things that are potentially possible, but surely you can take a few specific steps that can save the City many millions of liters of water, and billions of units of energy.

Here is a simple set of affordable, and eminently 'do-able' things that you should implement, before getting to telling the government what it should! Read them for not just the benefit that they offer you, but the domino impact they make on the city's burdens on such infrastructure needs. Be assured, that if a city like Bangalore with nearly 500,000 homes gets to doing these, we will virtually turn the clock back to consumption levels of 1980 on both power and water!


Spend a mere Rs.2000 to change all the bulbs in your house from the old incandescent and fluorescent tubelights to a set of CFL and LED lamps. You will not only save as much as Rs.250 in your monthly lighting bill, but a city like Bangalore will save up to 300 million units of energy consumed. That is about 20 per cent of the total energy that the city consumes annually. You will recover your 'investment' in less than a year, and the city will have less of a burden to carry on feeding energy.

Spend a mere Rs.20,000 and acquire a solar collector heating system for your rooftop. You will save up to Rs.450 a month on the electricity bill at today's tariffs, which will go up sharply in the next 5 years. In less than 3 years you will recover your 'investment'. For years after that, you use no energy for heating water in your home! The city will save 1000 units for every home in Bangalore. The saving in energy use for the city is massive: at over 500 million units on just this one home applicance alone. Destroy the existing geyser - it is burning a big hole in your pocket every month.

Spend a mere Rs.2500 to fit a set of 'aerators' or 'flow restrictors' to every tap and shower point at your home. It will save you 35,000 liters of water every year. Remember, it will save 20 billion litres for the city every year. Or about 50 million litres every day for the city. That's a saving of about seven per cent of fresh water demand daily for the city.

Spend a mere Rs.2000 as a lifetime cost and get a simple, energy-free, odour-less composting system for your house. All your kitchen waste for a family of four will give you rich nutrient fertilizer every two months that can serve a full acre of plants and trees! If you don't dump your kitchen waste for the Corporation truck to take it away, the city will reduce 70 per cent of waste transporting, take 1500 dump trucks off the road every day, save 25 million litres of precious oil, save Rs.15,000 crores that the city corporation spends every year to transport waste and dump in stinking heaps in other places, save the city from contamination and pestilence because of improper dumping. You will grow plants in your garden, or gift the rich organic fertilizer to the local park or a friend who will see more plants smiling and growing.

Spend a mere Rs.15,000-20,000 for doing a rainwater harvesting system that can meet about 20 per cent of our water needs every year. The energy saving on pumps is staggering.

Spend a mere Rs.15,000 for setting up a waste water treatment plant, if you live in an apartment. It will save you 70 per cent fresh water if the installation is guided well. When you save fresh water, you save energy, for you reduce the use of pumps for driving water. It saves 500 million liters a day for the city. In Bangalore, we get about as much water from the Cauvery river every day ... we can do without it. Or we can save the millions of units of energy we spend on pumps.

There are many more such things that you can do that will take you and the city the zero energy-driven way. All these solutions are inexpensive. It won't cost you more than Rs.40,000-50,000 to implement them all as a one-time cost, and can save you many lakhs of rupees over your lifetime. And, well, you can stop badgering the Government for not doing a decent job. You can do these things yourself, vastly increasing your autonomy, and saving you money in the longer run. But to get these things right, I also recommend that you choose to work with a 'building doctor', someone who knows and understands these things; haven't you seen too many good ideas fail because they weren't implemented right?

During the last 100 years we produced things centrally and supplied it at multiple points to people. Production and consumption has continued to happen at two different places, miles away from each other. The ZED way will change all this. The change we will see in the coming years is that each of us will be a producer and a consumer in our own right and capacity - for a big chunk of our need for these resources. In the process, we will also realise that such prosumption, and going grid-free, is the key to the future of our cities.

Chandrashekar Hariharan
07 Aug 2010

Chandrashekar Hariharan is CEO of Biodiversity Conservation India, the Bangalore-based pioneer of green buildings. (Full disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh, co-editor of India Together, is a member of the Board of Directors at BCIL).

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:57 pm 

Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 596
Low cost rural houses from local materials

http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/nov/e ... ost.htm#js

A traditional rural residence is almost always based on adaptations to the local environment, and is often built with the labour of the villagers themselves without the need for external mechanised inputs. Surekha Sule reports on the Rural Building Centre, a NIRD initiative showcasing several such homes.

29 November 2005 - Village houses may be artists' delight, and cement structures in villages may look like incongruous ugly dots in a picturesque landscape. But while urbanites may feel that village houses should retain their traditional appearance - and therefore be made of wood, stone, mud etc. - villagers themselves are quick to point to the irony in this: the well-meaning urbanites themselves have long ago abandoned traditional housing! Low cost, aesthetics, preserving traditions, and living in climatically suitable houses are all fine notions, but the durability of homes is also an important consideration. A mud house with a thatched roof needs continuous maintenance, whereas a brick and cement house is far sturdier, and has a longer life span. And villagers are as interested in the longevity of their homes as their urban counterparts.

But a traditional rural residence has important advantages - it is almost always based on adaptations to the local environment, and is often built with the labour of the villagers themselves without the need for external mechanised inputs. The simplest way to build a house, in the past, was to look around for the materials needed for the structure, and begin building the structure yourself. For the construction of village homes, therefore, the challenge today is to acknowledge people's desire for long-lasting structures, and thereafter ask what elements of functionality, value and aesthetics can be infused into the buildings. One person who took up this challenge vigorously was M N Joglekar, a former Executive Director of the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO).

A professional architect, Joglekar went beyond the standard knowledge of construction to study not just how these houses are constructed but how they are lived in. He set out to use rationalized traditional technologies, which are amply displayed at the Rural Building Centre of National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) in Hyderabad.

Fourteen typologies of rural buildings - from those in the Himalayan region to the hilly North-East to the rain-battered coasts to arid Kutch and the Deccan Plateau - stand in a circle, exuding aesthetics enhanced by the pictorial natural setting of the Rural Technology Park of NIRD campus. Recognising the great potential in promoting local-material-based traditional technologies, HUDCO had initiated the Rural Building Centre concept where building components can be manufactured by the rural people using local available material and through skill upgradation. Through this centre, precast components could be given to the rural people instead of cash, which is the typical form of assistance for home construction.

Through this centre, precast components could be given to the rural people instead of cash, which is the typical form of assistance for home construction.

A visit to this centre debunks the notion that durable houses cannot be without steel and cement, and that permanent, long lasting houses are a costly affair. During the recent heavy downpours, a few cement buildings nearby suffered leakages, but all these houses withstood the onslaught of the monsoon, and retained their exterior and interior intact.

The Rural Building Centre project depicting these 14 typologies is result of a trio working relentlessly with a vision. While Joglekar conceptualised the entire project, Brigadier G B Reddy (Retd) made it happen in just one and half year using army man's go-getting skills in executing the project. However, it still would have been just a dream, had it not been for NIRD's Director General Lalit Mathur's quickly sanctioning and enthusiastically supporting the project at crucial junctures. The Rural Building Centre was inaugurated on November 8, 2005 by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Rajasekhar Reddy, and was opened to the public to offer a view of rural traditional aesthetics reinforced through simple technical innovations for low-cost construction using local materials.

"When you dig up the ground to lay the foundation, you have soil which can be used for making mud-blocks and clay tiles right at the location. Thus there is no need to source building materials from the market, it is right there in the foundation" says Joglekar. The innovation is about strengthening mud-blocks through various simple technologies. Local availability of materials is also key; the west coast houses use laterite extensively, the Rajasthan houses too use stones even for columns, beams and the roof.

Joglekar recognised that the challenge of providing long-lasting, utility-rich homes was particularly emphatic after a natural disaster, when people have lost their weaker old homes to the calamity, but only local materials are available for reconstruction, and victims must often respond to their situation using their own wits and wisdom. He evolved expertise in post-disaster reconstruction while working on rehabilitation projects for Bhopal gas tragedy affected people. Later the devastating earthquakes in Latur, Jabalpur, Chaumoli, and Bhuj left millions homeless, and Joglekar's knowledge and studies of rural housing gained during his tours in different parts of the country helped victims rebuild their homes keeping in mind utility, culture and climate.

Interestingly, the Kutch earthquake saw several industries - especially steel, cement and construction - come to the 'rescue' of the disaster victims. But many of these efforts were eventually abandoned as unprofitable. Rural reconstruction is not a high priority for builders; the houses are small structures of Rs.25,000-50,000, and there isn't much of a profit margin.

It is in this context that the Rural Building Centre like at NIRD assumes importance. The RBC's models and ideas have much potential to develop under housing assistance programs, and might even help circumvent the contractors' lobby that prefers to build houses based on the materials it can source cheaply from anywhere, without much consideration of the users' needs. The ideas from the RBC need to be taken to regional centres that further explore the details of various local construction options and demonstrate them, build capacities and make building components available. The need for doing this in the rural areas themselves is critical, since HUDCO found that its centre in an urban area aroused curiosity and interest, but did not lead to large-scale implementation. Centres more accessible to villagers who could then immediately apply its ideas would have been much more preferable. ⊕

Surekha Sule
29 Nov 2005

Surekha Sule is a freelance journalist and an environmentalist from Mumbai and currently a Senior Fellow at National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad.

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