Kitchen waste powers street lights

Mamallapuram.17.9.12 111The Mamallapuram  branch of Adyar Ananda Bhavan generates 30 kg. kitchen waste a day.  A seaside resort  across the East Coast Road accounts  for 10 times more of food waste.  There are 700 odd eateries in this tourist town.  Till about five years back,  food waste from  Mamallapuram restaurants and hotels  wound up at  the municipal landfill.

And then,  came a bio-gas plant that converts kitchen waste into electricity.  I don’t know who made the first move,  but Vivekananda Kendra –  a Kanyakumari based NGO –   designed and set up this plant,  on a reclaimed  patch  of the municipal garbage dump yard.  The  waste-to-energy plant  is run by another NGO – Hand-in-Hand.

Mr M Raja of  Hand-in-Hand who conducted us around the plant –  a group of  OMR Greens  members from Padur –  explained at length the waste-to-energy conversion process,  from door-step collection of food waste to transmission of the converted electricity that powered 25 street lights.  Over 40 waste collectors are engaged;  and their remunaration is covered by the collection charges paid by the eating houses.  A minimum levy for kitchen waste collection is Rs.50 a month  and the chrages vary in accordance with the quantum of food waste collection.

The Mamamallapuram  waste-to-energy plant is a collective enterprise,  of several stakeholders. The plant,  designed by an NGO, and located on panchayat land,  is run by another NGO,  with  monthly contributions by eateries.  The 10 kilowatts generator running on bio-gas produced by Kirloskars,   costing Rs.20 lakhs  (at the 2008 price level),  is a donation from Sweden.  Under the renewable energy programme  the town panchayat is eligible to Rs.4 lakh subsidy.

Mr Raja,  so knowledgeable on so many aspects,  couldn’t,  however, tell us  the one thing  we needed to know –  the unit cost for producing power from kitchen waste.  OMR Greens  would  want to sell this waste-t0-energy  proposal  to  Padur  panchayat  and other stakeholders.   Ideally,  there should be a waste-to-energy unit for every panchayat  and in setting it up all stakeholders in the neighbourhood  need to be involved –  residents,  other individuals and institutions  generating waste,  property developers responsible for mushrooming residential high-rises ,  and the panchayat.

A bio-gas plant developed by Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) lends itself to  decentralized waste disposal system. For a plant with capacity to process one tonne waste daily requires  no more than 300 sq.ft.  of land.  And a tonne of bio-degradeable waste can produce 25-30 kg. of methane,  about 150 kg. carbon dioxide and  nearly 60 kg of organic manure.  Besides kitchen and veg. market wastes,  and those generated in abattoirs,  the BARC bio-gas model can take in even hazardous biological sludge.

The plant,  they say can be operated by unskilled workers  such as rag-picker  Ramesh  and his folks at Padur .   All they require is one-month training.

Snails crossing: Tread carefully

OMR Sights 025Padur lake viewed from my 9th floor apartment on Chennai’s  OMR

I have heard Padur residents get water supplied from a  lake in their backyard. Truckloads of water Mantri Synergy residents used to get before borewells in their complex got  activated was,  presumably,  sourced from this lake.  Oddly enough,  I didn’t, till now,  bring myself to visiting  the lake that I can view  from my high-rise.  Trip to the lake entails a walk through narrow, not so clean,  street through  Padur.    A  lakeside walk early this morning proved educative, if  thought-provoking. Winding our way through the unmade road my wife and I felt  embarrassed, on occasions,  at,  what may well be a common sight for the locals .  It was as if, with our appearance,  we intruded on the early morning  routine of some people. Their tell-tale movement  close to the lake, so early in the day,  suggest the following:
1) There is a crying need for a row of public toilets, well watered through a pipeline  from the lake,  for the benefit of those now using lakeside bushes for the purpose.
2) The water body needs to be fenced off in populated segments , making  it inaccessible to public.
3) The muddy pathway that runs along the lake is so littered with snails that there is case for a signpost, saying,  ‘Snails Crossing: Tread/Drive Carefully’.

Snails, out and about in scores, had the run of the road , in early mornings. Snails, they say, move about at night, and hibernate during the day. They detest brightness of the sun. And before the sun came up the snails seem to be ‘hurrying’ to their hideouts. Speaking of snail’s pace, they say  the fastest of the species can move 50 yards per hour.

The need for fencing off the lake can’t be overstated. Tamil Nadu water  supply undertaking has a pumping station that was put up five years back  under a community drinking water supply scheme  funded by the Asian Development Bank.  Lake-fencing, and provision of public toilets, which might not have been necessary when the drinking water scheme was launched,  in 2008,  now appears  critical to the continued  survival of the lake as a source of water for the ever growing Padur and its OMR neighbourhood.

Suggestion: Engineering students/faculty in neighbourhood  institutions such as Hindustan University  and Mohd. Sathak Engineering College can take up Padur lake improvement as a class project. The project report they come up with can become a campaign theme for OMR Greens for mobilizing public support for implementation of the lake conservation scheme.

Snails ln the lakeside road

Bullock-cart

Sourced from OMR Resident

 

Students for community service

posterA couple of college boys  (KSR College, Tiruchengode)  hit upon a community initiative to address food wastage by customers in restaurants.  They got a poster printed ,  showing  photo of a needy child  with empty plate.  The message :  ‘Please don’t waste food….wrap it’.

Palaniappan, and  Mohammed Ali, both engineering students, with Merwin Wesley,  found waste of  food by people visiting restaurants unacceptable and decided to do something about it.  The boys designed and printed about 4,000  ‘don’t-waste-food’ posters and distributed in restaurants and eating house in several Tamil Nadu towns, through a network of volunteer students.  They have mobilised over 100 volunteers in 17 towns.

Muhammad Ali – 0-8122139893- and Palaniappan – 0-9500488803 –   registered a society SEEDS.   They conduct awareness programme  to curb wastage of food, household  energy consumption  and conserve  other resources.  Their student volunteers  visit old age homes. With guidance from college alumni, SEEDS conduct counseling sessions in schools for Plus 1 and Plus 2 students  on choice of courses and subjects for higher education.

Interestingly,  the focus of SEEDS  initiative is on smaller towns – Dharmapuri, Erode, Darapuram, Bhavani, Attur, Mettur, Udmelpet, Hosur and Sathy. They  have volunteer representation in some  bigger cities as well – Trichy,  Selam,  Coimbatore, Tirupur,  and Chennai  (volunteers – Sibi Rajan and Rahul).

SEEDS approached 20 schools in Mettupalayam,  Erode and Tirupur,  asked students to come up with 15 suggestions to conserve electricity… School students are involved in household energy auditing in their neighbourhood, and community tree-planting in their localities.  During Deepavali,  SEEDS ogranised  door-to-door and distributed 5,000 pamphlets on how firecrackers pollute environment.

Says SEEDS president Muhammad Ali:  “We don’t approach the Government; instead we go to people. They have supported us. Some people have thrown the pamphlets back on our faces, we take it in our stride.”

Secretary Palaniappan: “I used to spend my pocket money on mobile recharge and snacks. Now, I save it to buy gifts for school children as we conduct a number of competitions for school students.”

Heard this word ?

I hadn’t heard of this word , till I read it in The Hindu this morning . Which doesn’t mean that the word doesn’t exist.  In fact,  ‘incentivise’  is a word coined in 1968  and is recognised  in OED and Merriam-Webster.  But then a Google search showed up this entry under Urban Dictionary , which said the only respectable form of the word was the noun “incentive.”  And it added that those who say  “incentivize”  ought to know they  ‘come across as a jargon-spewing a-hole’.

Bangalore energy expo

A global energy expo-cum seminar is under way in Bangalore,  but Karnataka’s energy minister has no time to look in.  He is reported to  have told the show organisers that he is busy with campaigning for  the legislative council poll in Shimoga. Nearly 60 companies  related to energy – solar, wind,  biofuel,  and  hydro power – are represented at the four-day show.

Here they are  showcasing their product and equipment under one roof for the first time, and the karnataka energy minister doesn’t seem to see the  point of it.  For him Copenhagen may well be on another planet.  So  much for his  interest in the climate change issue.

A global edit on climate change

A Maldives cabinet meet on  seabed,  Nepal meet on Mt. Everest,  and now a common global editorial on climate change .  They are all geared to get world leaders meeting at Copenhagen to deliver, and not merely deliberate.  The common editorial has been  published on page one, of 56 newpapers from 45 countries in 20 different language.  Notably,  the only newspaper in India to carry the edit is The Hindu.

The Guardian of London that led this unique media initiative could not persuade any other paper in the UK . In the US the only English daily that published the edit is Miami Herald. The only other US paper to do so is in Spanish – El Nuevo.  In fact, the response of one US paper to the initiative was :  “This is an outrageous attempt to orchestrate media pressure.  Go to hell.”

It took the Guardian leader writiers – Tom Clark and Julian Glover – three drafts,  after much e-mail to-and-fro-ing among the participant editors to finalise the text.  Reflecting on how the shared editorial project emerged Guardian’s Ian Katz wrote , ” Given that newspapers are inherently rivalrous,  proud and disputatious, viewing the world through very different national and political prisms,  the prospect of getting a sizeable cross-section of them to sign up to a single text on such a momentous and divisive issue seemed like a long shot “.

Ian acknowledged  The Hindu was in on the project  right from the start –  ‘an early, enthusiastic,  conversation with the editor of one of India’s biggest dailies offered encouragement’.

The media initiative may not alter policy positions held by most countries,  notably,  the major ones that already have their minds  made up even before going to Copenhagen.  What is notable is that the initaiive represents a measure of  acceptance by the world media that there are  issues that  call for beyond-the-border thinking.  Next, the progressives in the media ought to come up with a common edit on combating  jihadi terrorism ; even if someone out there says,  ‘go to hell’.

Bhopal, before 24×7 media

Todays’ media people,  fed on 24×7 news channels,   may find it hard  to imagine that there was a  24-hour delay in the Bhopal gas tragedy  making media headlines.   TV those days was limited to a few hours  of evening telecast.  Bhopal 1984 was in B G era (Before Google) ;  and the gas leak that killed over 2000 overnight  happened on a  Sunday night,  well past the  newspaper  deadline (time at which an edition  goes to print) .

I was then The Times of India (TOI) correspondent;  and the English  print media of  that time  meant a  handful of dailies –  Hindustan Times Indian Express and The StatesmanPatriot of Delhi, and  The  Hindu ,  Madras ,  didn’t even post full-time correspondents in Bhopal in the 80s ;  a media outpost,  to which no senior TOI reporter from New Delhi  was happy  to be  posted.  I went to Bhopal, as staff correspondent,  from the Delhi news service desk.

Bhopal  was a city of  ‘stringers’,  in media parlance.  Stringers are locally influential reporters retained by major dailies to file news reports for them.  And then we had carbon-copy hacks, reporting for several media outlets.  They are paid by the column inches they get published. The  complaint some outstation newspapers had was that they got from their stringers  fourth or the fifth carbon-copy  that was barely visible to the naked eye.

Bhopal reporters on media junket to Sagar. The face under the strawhat is Tarun Bhadhuri of The Statesman

This was the media scene in Bhopal 1984.   There was  camaraderie among reporters of major outstation dailies.  We moved together on assignments,  often pooling information,  while respecting  the right to ‘exclusives’  a reporter was obliged to put out now and  then to please their editors.

Reporter at work in back-seat of a car

Barring a few major newspapers that maintained an office with teleprinter connection,  reporters  relied on Post Office telex to send  news reports.  I have once sent a report to New Delhi from a post  office in remote area that still used Morse Code telegraph.

Our teleprinter operator in Bhopal worked four hours daily, from 4 p m ; and stayed beyond 8 p m on request, but rarely more than an  hour or two.  I could phone in  brief reports,  but  you can’t expect to  get too popular with the steno at the news desk  in New Delhi,  if you  phone in your reports too often. Besides, there was STD cost to be
considered.  The phone bills you submit to New Delhi for  reimbursement were liable to be sent back with query as to why and what-for certain phone calls were made,  and if they were  necessary.

Bhopal gas leak happened late on a Sunday night. I was woken up from sleep by a phone call from N Rajan, a media colleague and neighbour who edited local daily Hitavada, and also filed news  reports for Patriot, New Delhi. He had heard from a contact about a  major gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticides factory. The gas  had already drifted our way, though our  Professor Colony residence  was about 5 km from the factory.

As I looked out  from our first-floor balcony I saw residents in our  neighbourhood out on the street, fleeing from the gas spread.  Rajan  and I  – with my wife, son and our dog –  joined the crowd.  It ddidn’t  require a reporter’s nose for news for one to realise that we were amidst a major developing story. Our frustration was we couldn’t report it to our New Delhi offices at that late hour.  No cell phones then.

Our priority was  survival ;  making it  somewhere away from the gas,   which had by then spread to much of Bhopal . We spent the night  with Narasimhan in Arera Colony.  He is a relative and was then a  Bhopal bank official whose house was on  higher ground and unaffected.  On our way up to Narasimhan’s  place we found several gas victims  who collapsed on the street after inhaling the toxic gas  methyl isocyanate.

The morning after the gas leak I started phoning colleagues and contacts, but found them equally in the dark on details. The 8 a m  radio news wasn’t much of a help, by way of hard news. Meanwhile our colleague in The Statesman Tarun Bhadhuri (Jaya Bachchan’s  father) phoned to say he heard from a Union Carbide factory official  that the gas leak was under control and the casualty figure was five deaths.  This was what a Union Carbide official would have us believe that  morning .Anyway we still had the entire day to work on the news report.  That night TOI news desk kept open the Page One lead slot till 11 p m.

At Bhopal, when Rajan and I went to the government hospital – Hamedia – around 10 a m we found a spill-over of gas victims from hospital wards,  to the corridors and scores more were being brought in to the casualty in vans,  three-wheelers and even push-carts. Many of the victims collapsed right on the drive way.

Driving through the town later that day we found dead cattle with bloated belly lying on the street,  waiting to be disposed of.  The army had moved in  and their trucks helped disposal of the dead.  We still  had places to  visit, and contacts to be tapped – at the railway  station (where gas victims, dead and dying, were being taken out of  platforms and waiting halls), at  the police headquarters,  the P R  office,  and the hospitals.  I made a final round of phone calls to other  reporters to exchange notes before filing my news report for the day.

In the absence of an officially declared tally of the gas victims, reporters  worked out a consensus on a figure  –  500 dead .  But then the  headline writers sitting in Delhi  had other   calculations. Upshot was that no two newspaper headlines carried the same figure. We in Bhopal based our guesswork on a  report that all nine cremation grounds in town worked  round the  clock during the  24 hours after the calamity struck.

This was how the Sunday night gas leak in Bhopal made it to  print  on Tuesday morning.

Related write-up –  The night Bhopal turned into a gas chamber