Healing hearts, greening fields

September 2016

By Jamuna Rangachari

Jamuna Rangachari meets Tripti Jain and Biplab Ketan Paul whose simple but powerful devise, the Bhungroo, is enabling marginal farmers to store excess water during the monsoon for use in arid summer

Biplab Ketan Paul with the  women whose lives he transformed. Note the Bhungroo in the hand of the woman on the right

Biplab Ketan Paul with the women whose lives he transformed. Note the Bhungroo in the hand of the woman on the right

That we are experiencing an ecological crisis is an understatement. Yet, most of us find it hard to adapt our lifestyles to the demands of the Earth. It is therefore doubly gratifying to meet people who are not only leading the life ecological, but also creating tools to help overcome the crisis. Best of all, they are doing it the Gandhian way with the focus on the poorest sections of society. Meet Tripti Jain and Biplab Ketan Paul, who are putting smiles on the faces of village women through the invention of the Bhungroo.

Tripti Jain, who hails from Ahmedabad, had always wished to work to improve the environment around her. She did her graduation in environmental engineering in Gujarat, and then went abroad for her post graduation in sustainable development. After returning to India, she worked in the area of policy making. Simultaneously, she also explored the environment around her, both in urban and rural areas. During her journey, she met her husband, Biplab Ketan Paul, who was active in the rural area trying to make their lives better.

Love bloomed, they married, and also started redefining sustainable development itself.

It was Biplap who created the Bhungroo, in his quest for creating sustainable water sources for the locale. “Farmers in Gujarat face a unique challenge. On the one hand, their fields are waterlogged due to heavy rainfall during monsoon, and on the other hand, there is a dearth of water for irrigation in summers,” he says. His technology filters, injects and stores excess rain water in the subsoil strata in the form of water lenses. This takes care of the waterlogging, as well as forms a source of water during the arid summer.

Tripti was concerned about the women physically struggling to secure water over eight dry months. When the monsoons arrived, they clambered through waterlogged farms and flooded neighbourhoods. She noticed how in both cases it resulted in poor smallholding women-headed households being pushed  into a vicious debt cycle, that made these families migrate or being forced into bonded labour.

They realised even more strongly how Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of serving the poorest of the poor was the most valid way of working in the area of development, especially in India. In 2011, they founded, Naireeta, a social enterprise. The enterprise follows a strictly Gandhian principle. While it is often argued that top-of-the-line resources are far more beneficial than locally sourced ones, they feel that in India that option is not viable due to the high cost of those technologies that make them impossible for the smaller farmers. Tripti says, “Mahatma Gandhi believed that locally sourced skill and material should be the backbone of Gram Swaraj. The whole technology has to be operated by those people who do not know the nitty-gritties of scientific theories. The ultra poor smallholders have to be self-sufficient not only in operation, but also in smaller maintenance factors.” Keeping all this in mind, they did not want people to source any external kit or tool or parts for this work. They also decided that the Bhungroo would be centred around women. Keeping the same principle in mind, Biplab has refused to patent his creation as he wants everyone to benefit from it.

The challenges
Initially, farmers didn’t trust  the Bhungroo. They didn’t think such a technology could exist, and that this was simply another scam to entrap them in another vicious circle. They also had to face a lot of opposition from the men folk who were particularly against the Bhungroo being centred around women. Tripti says, “We were non-negotiable on this subject. Male members were migratory, so they had little knowledge of what their wives were doing for water.” It took a few years for everyone to relent. The duo also had to contend with vested business interests who opposed the Bhungroo. To them, Naireeta Services was trying to jeopardise their monopoly and land-capturing schemes. Still, local SHGs [self-help groups] and commune ownership were able to dismantle those iron clutches.

Working together for sufficient water

Biplab Ketan Paul with the  women whose lives he transformed. Note the Bhungroo in the hand of the woman on the right

Tripti Jain among the women and children empowered and enriched by the Bhungroo

 

The team always wanted women to be part of the process of implementing their mission and made sure they knew what was happening. In fact, this is why they chose the name Bhungroo, as the traditional Bhungroo is a hollow pipe, a common fixture in villages, small towns and even urban slums, through which women blow air to keep their open cooking stoves firing.

“Each unit of Bhungroo guarantees nearly one million litres of water to poor smallholders in off-seasons to irrigate their crops,” they say. The organisation, she says, has irrigated more than two lakh hectares of land and made sure during monsoon, excess runoff water is filtered and directed towards underground wells.

Spreading the message

Now, Naireeta functions across UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and Gujarat, and is in the process of creating execution teams in MP, Rajasthan and Haryana. Heartened by their success, government bodies have been forthcoming with this technology. Bhungroo is well-accepted by decision makers across India. A few Central cabinet ministers are taking the message to Parliament, and policy makers have taken a keen interest in promoting Bhungroo in SAARC and Africa.

Awards and accolades

The core team  with their domain experience have been  globally acclaimed with prestigious recognitions namely, Fulbright, Ashoka Globalizer, Rockefeller, LEAD (Leadership Excellence And Development), Water star, Eco-Heroes, Ambassador for Peace, US department of State Scholar and US Government Global fellows. For instance, Biplab Ketan Paul is an Ashoka Globalizer. Tripti Jain is a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow and LEADs Fellow and expert in environmental engineering. Besides, the organisation has 23 volunteers, all women climate leaders who’ve earned the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) recognition for Bhungroo.

More than all these awards and accolades, however, the accolade that is dearest to the team is what the women of Gujarat often say, “Bhungroomara mate Laxmichhe; Bhungrooamaraghar ne samrudhbanaya, southibadharemahattaya nu muddho e chheki Bhungrooapan ne izzatapelachhe.” (Bhungroo is goddess Laxmi to me; Bhungroo has elevated our social status, but the most important factor is that Bhungroo has given me self-esteem and social recognition)

Truly Bhugroo has enabled not just Goddess Lakshmi but Mother Earth herself to visit homes in the process of building a sustainable world, beginning with Gujarat, then India, and then the world itself.

About the author : Jamuna Rangachari  writes and manages the websites of Life Positive. She has authored three books for children, compiled and interpreted Teaching Stories-I and II for Life Positive. and published a book through Hay House,

 

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