View from India: Free electricity, water and wellness for rural communities

Electricity, water and health - essentials to the wellbeing of a person - will now be offered free of cost for rural and village India. This too-good-to be true offering comes from the Billions in Change movement envisioned by Manoj Bhargava, an Indian-born US-based self-made billionaire, entrepreneur, philanthropist and creator of the ‘5-hour Energy’ drink.

The new Billions in Change television documentary that was aired over the weekend in India brought together five never-before-seen tech-based inventions by Bhargava. These will be implemented in village and rural India through the Hans Foundation, one of the largest charitable organisations in India, also funded by Bhargava.

A beginning will be made in the snow-capped peaks of Uttarakhand, a state in north India, whose forested Jim Corbett National Park shelters Bengal tigers and other native wildlife. Philanthropist Bhargava, however, has a fair idea of the Indian market, as some of his inventions have been partially tested in India.

‘Free Electricity is Here’ - the awareness campaign along with innovative solutions for rural India - is also being advertised in national dailies. The vision is being realised through a combination of tech tools and natural resources. Stage 2, the invention shop in Farmington Hills, Michigan, US is where the R&D happens. The outcome is a range of products - such as Hans Powerpack, RainMaker for Brackish Water and ‘Shivansh: Free Fertilizer’ - which are visualised to change the lives of underprivileged people in the world, including villages in rural India.

In the invention series, I’d like to begin with Shivansh fertilisers. This Stage 2 concept is a cost-free fertiliser made by gathering agricultural waste and animal manure and then using a simple-to-follow layering method until the pile is at shoulder height. Farmers mix the ingredients in the pile every day and after around 18 days the outcome is a nutrient-rich fertiliser with a high concentration of soil microorganisms. ‘Shivansh: Free Fertilizer’ has been field-tested in 50 farms in India in 2016, which then spread virally to about 40,000 farms. All of them have replaced urea with the Shivansh fertiliser. Clearly, a better yield improves the farmer’s income and with better crops consumers, too, enjoy better health. At the end of the day, we are what we eat.

The R&D behind the Hans range of inventions (which can be read as second and third of the series) ensures a dependable source of electricity for less privileged households. It allows them to generate their own electricity, store it and use it without having to pay a utility bill, buy fuel or produce harmful pollution. This happens through a combination of the Hans PowerPack and the Hans Solar Briefcase. The PowerPack can be recharged for free using the built-in solar panel. Though it’s lightweight, it’s equally hardy as it is constructed from the same material used to make bulletproof glass. In short, it is a portable power device that includes a spotlight and room lighting, a USB port and a 12-volt outlet for running small electronic units. The Hans Solar Briefcase can also be plugged into a regular wall socket and charged off the grid.

Another product in the same category is the Hans Free Electric bike. This hybrid bicycle drives a flywheel system, which turns a generator and charges the Hans PowerPack. Of course, this can happen when users pedal for an hour in order to use it for the next 24 hours. Already pockets of village India have been exposed to the electric bike.

The idea of providing electricity began with the bike, which then led to other inventions,such as the PowerPack and Solar BriefCase. The current plan for the Hans Free Electric bike is to produce it on a limited basis for India only. In the case of poorly lit homes, life can become a drag. Free electricity will make life more habitable, with better living conditions, productivity and facilitating education. Electricity in the evening hours will enable children to study.

Coming to water, a very precious resource, Stage 2 has arrived at two inventions. RainMaker is a filtration unit for brackish water that removes the salts and other minerals from brackish water and makes it suitable for both human consumption and agricultural use. At the village level, the device is attached to the well upon which it begins to function, cleaning water at a rate of 5-10 gallons per minute. The water filtration device is not an energy guzzler. Even a small generator can power it, as it takes just 1.5 kilowatts - around the same as a hair dryer.

Also part of the invention portfolio is RainMaker for Grey Water. This small, self-contained unit uses a series of filters to purify dirty water and make it fit to drink. The RainMaker for Grey Water purifies up to eight gallons of water per minute with an electric pump. In the absence of electricity, it can also be used with a manual pump or a bike pump.

Bhargava - who describes himself as an enabler - insists that he invents environment-friendly solutions for free electricity, free fertiliser and clean water. These fundamentals, he believes, when addressed, enable everything above them, such as education, health and livelihood. In the process, they also result in lasting solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

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