The superhuman efforts of student Rohit Pilai today have greatly improved the lives of several rural families, especially with non-smoking stoves. But it was not easy, as Pilai faced resistance at every step of the way
when we are children, we are full of idealistic intentions to change the world, do good to humanity, change people’s lives, etc. As we grow up, we somehow lose these ideals and properly join the rat races in the pursuit of money, comfort and security. From time to time someone enters who really dares to go against the flow and improve the lives of people who really need it. Rohit Pilai of Nasik, who is currently earning a Master’s degree in Technology and Development at IIT-Bombay, is one of the best examples of such an initial path – producing low-emission furnaces for Indian villages. Having done exemplary work for the villagers during his master’s degree, he was confident that he was not actually sitting in any places so that he could continue to work for the benefit of the country’s rural masses.
Where it all began
Rohit’s journey began far back when, after graduating from NIT-Trichy and working at Larsen & Toubro for a year and a half, he joined IISc, Bangalore, as a research assistant at ASTRA (Center for Sustainable Technology). “This was my first encounter with technology for the countryside,” he says. Rohit’s interest in the area was aroused, and over the weekend he began traveling to arbitrary rural areas near Bengaluru to understand their problems. He just boarded a random train, went down to any village that seemed picturesque enough, explored it on foot, and stayed there for the weekend.
During his visits, he noted that most villagers used inefficient wood-burning stoves that emitted a lot of smoke containing dangerously large amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), which will affect women in the long run. “She (the housewife) will cough continuously every time she cooks, and the cooking method produces a lot of smoke. In addition, a man never goes to the kitchen, so do not guess about the efforts and pain of women. It is sad that women do not have the right to vote in the decision-making process, ”he explains.
Rohit realized that even as many women had suffered from it – as evidenced by the number of people infected with respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – they did not realize that the cause was their ovens. . Rohit himself measured the level of CO in kitchens and found that it is 150-180 ppm, while the MNRE (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) showed a maximum allowable CO content of 4 ppm. He also found that most female students drop out of school just because they have to travel far in search of firewood for cooking, and a normal family requires 100-120kg of firewood per month. “It’s not that there are no efficient stoves in India, there are a lot of them. Even the MNRE website offers 40 furnaces approved for subsidy schemes. The real problem is distribution, ”he says, explaining that the culture and habits of people should be taken into account when designing a furnace, which is not done. If people have to change their behavior a little bit, they will return to the old furnace sooner, he adds.
Breaking the ice
After IISc Rohit received admission to the MSc in Technology and Development at IIT-Bombay. During his first year, he had to make a two-month trip to the village of Singnapur in the Parbani district of Maharashtra. “Although my research topic was something else, I realized that there is great potential in order to bring culinary stoves to the village. I called my friend Promoda from IISc for a week in the village. ” Both Rohit and Promod made several adjustments to the existing form for the furnace, which made it easier and simpler to assemble. Rohit began by going to every house in the village and explaining to people the benefits of the stove. But the advantage for the villagers was not the health and efficiency benefits, but the fact that the new stoves did not blacken the walls from the smoke, unlike the existing ones.
“The initial zeal shown by the villagers faded when they became aware of the price – 1,000 per stove. It could not be given for free, because everything there is is not valued at all, ”he explains. He then reduced the price of the first 20 kilns to £ 500, but the villagers still hesitated until a woman, a former member of the village of Grama Panchayat, approached him and said he wanted the product. This broke the ice, which made the others more confident, and in 30 days Rohit managed to distribute 30 cookers.
Ahead is the road
Rohit wanted people to continue to use these kilns after his care, for which he gave shape to 2-3 people and taught them to build a kiln with it. During this time, Rohit’s vision was greatly developed, as the deputy collector of the district became interested and joined the project, asking to put into operation 500 furnaces, of which 100 have already been built. To spread information about the furnace, Rohit distributed a video among the villagers, which explained the work and benefits of the furnace (they surprisingly had a group WhatsApp), after which he was approached by people from neighboring villages.
“I reviewed the situation almost a year later and people are still using our stoves. They are very happy with this, and have saved about 50-60 percent of firewood as well as a lot of time every day. The best part is that women have started joining self-help groups (GHAs) and making economic contributions to their homes, all because they save time while cooking. Almost 12 SHGs are involved and we will soon be training them to make furnaces. Some families have also canceled the gas connection. In another group in the same district, a group of GHAs approached me for training so that they could start using the stove in their village as well. I visited the village, held a demonstration, and the people were very happy. Now I have a team of 10 people, led by Promoda. “
Rohit and his team are now on the verge of launch – Rural Caravan, which, in addition to the use of cookers, will also seek to improve rural tourism and spread technology in rural areas. To do this, they identified Palunde, a village about 100 km from Mumbai. Rohit’s heart is so enthusiastic about these projects that he decided that this is what he intends to work on full time after completing the course, so he did not even pass a single exam. In a scenario where brain drain to other countries and running for corporate vacancies are almost the norm, Rohit set a precedent by doing what actually helps people who need it, even if they don’t realize it themselves.
Note – The design and construction of the furnace is made by IISC, Bangalore