Shuddha Jal

Ranjani Vaidya makes khichdi for the children in the Zilla Parishad primary school in Gundewadi, about 10 km from Jalna, a town in Maharashtra famous for making quality seeds. The distance might be short, but a part of the ride is rickety as the road is pothole ridden. About 150 students, almost all children of labourers — agricultural and industrial — study here. Her forthright manner of speaking, the confidence she displays while answering your questions prompts me to advise her to contest for the next panchayat elections.

RC Jalna Midtown President Anup Karwa (with his hand on the pump), President-elect Dinesh Chhajed (to his right) and Assistant Governor Kishor Punjabi (extreme right) inaugurate Project Taral in a school.
RC Jalna Midtown President Anup Karwa (with his hand on the pump), President-elect Dinesh Chhajed (to his right) and Assistant Governor Kishor Punjabi (extreme right) inaugurate Project Taral in a school.

As in any school in India’s villages, the bright and energetic youngsters flash shy smiles, and are soon grinning and chatting away. They find it so easy to share their dreams; their world might be small, but not their worldview. Pallavi Gajjar is in Class 5 and wants to become an IPS officer; Aditya Ganesh, whose father works at the local grain market, wants to wear the khakhi vardhi too, by becoming a policeman. The chirpy Neha Jadav wants to become a doctor.

All these children are the recipients of the tiny little magic pill… a pill that can effortlessly transform their tap water into shuddha jal (pure water) and is named Shudhu. Just a month earlier, members of the Rotary Club of Jalna Midtown, D 3132, have distributed bottles of 30 tablets to each student. As Neha and her sister study in this school, they got 60 tablets and still have a supply to ensure they drink pure water.

It is like the Rotarians have adopted and divided the school among them — for e-Learning, a water tank, free healthcare and now pure drinking water.

“This tablet is like dispirin, you just have to drop it in a vessel containing 15 to 20 litres of water, after filtering the water to remove impurities such as mud, and in 25–30 minutes you get pure water,” explains Anup Karwa, President of RC Jalna Midtown, the brain behind this project.

I am at Jalna at the end of the monsoon season; the town is barely 60 km from the Aurangabad airport and as we drive from there to the town, the lush green countryside — crops such as wheat, maize, millets, and of course cotton, are mainly grown in this belt — provides a picturesque backdrop and the smooth road, a State highway, is an indicator of the long distance India has traversed on improving our roads.

Kiran Authi, Principal, Krishna Nagar Z P School, teaching the students on how to use the Shudhu tablets.
Kiran Authi, Principal, Krishna Nagar Z P School, teaching the students on how to use the Shudhu tablets.

Karwa explains that even though it revived late, the monsoon has brought good rains to Jalna and the water tables have improved. But a perennial problem in this region is that villages in this area do not get treated water, and the villagers consume water from borewells or plain hand pumps as it is. For the last three years, this region in the Deccan Plateau has faced severe drought and water has been a scarce commodity. And from whatever source it comes, it is consumed, causing waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, diarrhoea, cholera, jaundice, etc, particularly in children. “A few years ago, the water shortage was so acute that politicians used to come here to talk about it. Finally the exasperated villagers said: ‘Come only if you can bring along your own water for drinking and other usage, otherwise don’t come! Because they were bringing 2,000 followers with them for political meetings and consuming the scarce water resources here,” says Karwa.

Shudhu tablet has a very simple low-cost technology and can easily reach the masses. It was supplied during the Assam, Gujarat and Chennai floods and the Indian Army is using it in Siachen.

Finally, a water source was established but only for a part of the district; “a major part of this region is still dependent on groundwater and tankers,” he says, adding, “which is ironic because I’d say Jalna is the agricultural capital of India. All the seed companies are located here. The British used to trade in cotton from Jalna, so it has historic significance and even giant MNCs such as Monsanto are present here.”

Hailing from an agricultural background — his joint family owns over 150 acres of land where various crops are grown and a variety of seeds produced for cotton, vegetables, maize, etc — Karwa himself is an agricultural scientist with a doctorate from a German research centre in Plant Molecular Biology… “actually I have two Masters in molecular genetics from UK and one more on bio-safety through distance learning.” Agricultural research engages a good part of the three Karwa brothers’ joint family business. I am hosted in their palatial house, which is so designed to accommodate three independent houses that seamlessly merge into each other.

Ranjani Vaidya, who makes khichdi for the students at the Gundewadi school, with her son.
Ranjani Vaidya, who makes khichdi
for the students at the Gundewadi school, with her son.

Project Shudhu takes shape

Packed with both energy and passion, he joined Rotary some 18 months ago when RC Jalna Midtown was chartered; he decided to work in the area of ensuring pure drinking water to the villagers, particularly the children who were frequently afflicted with waterborne preventable disease in the monsoon season and frequently missing classes.

Not only is the club young; all its 65 members are under 40, and like several young Rotary leaders, the 35-year-old Karwa, who has young children, often has to answer tough questions at home on why he needs to devote so much time for Rotary! He quotes verbatim from a Rotary News profile of Past RI President Rajendra Saboo, and smiles: “Even such a tall leader had to face such questions at home!”

Usually during monsoon there is a lot of absenteeism. But this season, hardly any child is absent and I’m happy that not a single child has fallen sick with diarrhoea.

Karwa started working on the Shudhu project in which tiny pills are used to purify 15 to 20 litres of water when he was President-elect. Shudhu (name of the tablet made by a pharma major) has a very simple low-cost technology and so can easily reach the masses. “It is an efficient, easy and economical water purification method, and the tablet purifies the water by taking out of it all pathogens, without leaving any odour or colour,” he says. The club has signed an MoU with the pharma company which has supplied one lakh tablets to it at a subsidised rate of Re 1 each. This is possible as the money comes from the company’s welfare arm and government subsidy, he explains.

The tablets come packed in tubes of 30 and the club has distributed them to 3,300 families, for a month’s supply of drinking water. The beneficiaries are mostly schoolchildren and their families and industrial workers from the companies which had given the club some CSR funds for this and other projects, says Deepak Gelda, Chairman of the project.

A young videographer.
A young videographer.

Let’s cut back to Ranjani Vaidya and the Gundewadi government primary school, where the children have already received the Shudhu tablets, and I am there to study its impact. Ranjani’s family got three bottles of 30 tablets each as she has two sons and one niece studying here. She will soon run out of the free tablets, of which Rotary can’t ensure a perennial free supply. So if they were available in the market, would she spend Rs 30 to buy a month’s supply, month after month, I ask the woman who gets a monthly wage of Rs 1,000 for a few hours work to make the khichdi.

The answer is a confident “Why would I not?” She explains that every time during the monsoon rains, when the tap water is muddy and more impure than usual, the children often fall ill with either a viral infection, particularly, or diarrhoea. “And that costs us Rs 500 to take the child to the doctor.” While the doctor and the medicines cost Rs 300, she has to spend Rs 200 on an auto rickshaw to traverse the rickety road to Jalna. She says this season, none of the children have fallen ill, and haven’t missed a single day of school.

Usually during monsoon there is a lot of absenteeism. But this season, hardly any child is absent and I’m happy that not a single child has fallen sick with diarrhoea.

In the Indian context, where a decent free noon meal is provided to all schoolchildren, a healthy child attending school means not only one chore less for a woman but also a saving, however modest, in the monthly food budget. Much more important, she, or other parents like her, most of whom are daily wage earners, doesn’t lose the daily wage.

What is more, adds Ranjani, when she uses the Shudhu tablets to purify water in her home, “even after seven days the water remains clear and I don’t see any jeev-jantu (worms) in the water, which happens with ordinary tap water. Is tablet se toh pani bilkul saaf rehta hei,” she beams.

Children at the Gundewadi Zilla Parishad School.
Children at the Gundewadi Zilla Parishad School.

Shamal Sapan, the teacher for Class 4, confirms what Ranjani has said. She herself has an RO water purifier at home. “But almost all the students here are children of labourers and usually during the monsoon season there is a lot of absenteeism. But this season, I see hardly any child being absent and I am happy to report that not a single child has fallen sick with diarrhoea. And they are attending school daily.” She adds that after the Rotarians have distributed these tablets, the teachers do a daily follow-up and ask the students if their mothers are using the tablets and the answer is ‘Yes’.

Dinesh Chhajed, President-elect of the club, explains now that many industrial workers have been given Shudhu tablets, some of the industries have approached the club to ask if we can get them these tablets on a regular basis. Generally, these factories have water tanks for workers and they want to use a few tablets to purify the water in the tank. “And we have said this can be done.”

A bioreactor of Project Taral fitted on a hand pump.
A bioreactor of Project Taral fitted on a hand pump.

On sustainability of Shudhu, Karwa says scaling up the project is not a problem as the pharma company has given them assurance of supply at the subsidised rate of Re 1 a tablet for at least two years. “Apart from industries, our own members have asked for the tablets on a regular basis, to be given to their maids or other workers.” The tablets, he adds, are safe and effective and have been certified by both WHO and the Red Cross and were supplied during the Assam, Gujarat and Chennai floods. They are also sent regularly to the Indian Army for difficult terrains such as Siachen.

Project Taral

Another water purification project that Karwa and his team are working on is Taral, the inauguration of which I attended at the Krishna Nagar Zilla Parishad primary school in Jamwadi village, about 7 km from Jalna town. This magic device or bioreactor, which recently won the national innovation award for 2017 from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been innovated by a start-up company in Mumbai.

The bioreactor (see picture) can be fitted on any hand pump, and uses vacuum, thermodynamics, pressure and temperature to purify water by killing microbes. “It fits inside the hand pump and is a ‘fit and forget’ for a long time device as it requires no maintenance,” explains Dipesh Patni, chairman of the Taral Project. He adds, “It has three filters and is a low cost, economical and powerful solution that requires no electricity to kill most of the microbes, bacteria and fungus in the water and can prevent diseases like typhoid, malaria and jaundice.”

Students at the Krishna Nagar Zilla Parishad primary school in Jamwadi.
Students at the Krishna Nagar Zilla Parishad primary school in Jamwadi.

Karwa adds that along with the cost of labour, as the device needs to be fitted inside the hand pump, it costs between Rs 12,000–15,000.

The school is a non-descript two-room building with no compound wall, and is surrounded by very modest basic houses, some with buffaloes or goats in their front yard. An odd tractor and a few scooters are parked around the houses. The children’s schoolbags are neatly stacked in front of them on the floor; outside in the corridor, their footwear is neatly arranged. There are two toilets, one for boys and the other for girls, but there is no running water available. The child has to carry water in a bucket while using the toilet. “We chose this school to fit the hand pump with the first bioreactor because this pump caters to the needs of about 1,000 villagers. Their families collect water from here,” says Chhajed.

In Rotary terminology it is far from a “happy school” as the classrooms are very ordinary, the children are seated on the floor, as there are no benches and desks. But thanks to the intervention of the four Rotary clubs in Jalna, it has its share of happiness alright. What I love about the little meet organised to inaugurate the hand pump with the new device is that members, particularly the seniors from all the other three Rotary clubs in the town — RCs Jalna, Central and Rainbow, are present to cheer on the inaugural.

The school has some 110 students and the Principal, Kiran Authi, seems to know many Rotarians from the different clubs who have assembled here. When I express surprise, she smiles and says, “The Sintex water tank you see there was given by RC Jalna Rainbow and in 80 per cent of our classes, e-learning has been introduced thanks to the help of all these Rotary clubs. What a child can’t grasp or learn quickly from a textbook, she does from the screen. All the four Rotary clubs have helped us so much.”

Industrial workers, beneficiaries of the Shudhu tablets.
Industrial workers, beneficiaries of the Shudhu tablets.

It is like the Rotarians have adopted and divided the school among themselves; she credits RC Jalna Central for organising doctors to treat poor children free of cost. “Actually they offered to hold a health camp here, but you can see our campus; it is so small and cramped, and also all the parents are daily-wage labourers and they can’t afford to miss a day’s work for a medical check-up, even when done free.”

Karwa has ambitious plans for this “fit and forget” project because it has the potential to reach its benefit to a much larger audience. “This is a dual solution kind of project and we are looking for a global grant to fit such bioreactors into the hand pumps of some 400 government schools in the vicinity of Jalna, and covering a distance of about 100 to 200 kms.” Most of these schools have hand pumps that are also used by the villagers.

He is enthused by the great response he has got from the District Collector Shiva Jondhale, an IAS officer, who has now become an honorary Rotarian of his club. “We requested him to give us data for all the municipal schools so that we can fit the Taral bioreactor on the hand pumps in those schools. We had the data of 400 schools on an excel sheet on the fifth day!”

He is so passionate about this water purification project that he is already working on some global connections in the Rotary fraternity. “I have already talked to clubs in Germany, US and Spain. But it is not easy to get a positive response quickly; they take time and naturally want to discuss it with their board of directors; there is always a process when it comes to committing funds. I also seek partnerships with other clubs through this article in Rotary News,” he adds. (As the magazine went to print, Karwa was in the US and sent me an excited mail that he had visited a “100-year-old US club and they have shown great interest in doing a global grant with us for both Taral and Shudhu.”)

At the local level he has got commitment for Rs 50,000 from the CSR funds of a company. “Jalna doesn’t have big industries, but if we can get Rs 50,000 from 10 industries, we get Rs 5 lakh to help a sizeable section of the community,” he says.

This young club president also wants to enlarge the scope of the Taral project by getting the device altered so that it can be fitted onto borewell pumps too. “Once that happens, its benefits can reach individual homes too.”

The Jalna Midtown club is also collecting money to help a local community centre called Shri Dutta Ashram headed by a woman, where annually about 1.5 lakh people are given free food. “And this includes three meals, and this is done irrespective of religion, community or caste. It has a meditation centre, and runs education classes for poor children, and most of its donations come from anonymous benefactors.”

The club wants to provide them a solar electrification system to reduce their power bill, which is around Rs 2.5 lakh a month as they have large cold storage space for their kitchen. The project cost is Rs 27 lakh and Karwa has got commitment for one-third of the cost through some CSR funds. For the rest, he approached a Dutch Rotarian who heads the Bengaluru-based solar equipment manufacturing company which will fit the panels to generate 40 kw power. “I reached out to him to bring a global grant, but their club said they want to do a project in his country. But he was kind enough to waive the Rs 2 lakh that will be the company’s profit.”

That Rotary is active in Jalna can be seen from all the 350 zilla parishad schools being given e-learning kits; with the main contributor being RC Jalna Central. Low-cost handwash stations have been put in many schools and paediatric heart surgeries have also been organised.

For collaboration on this project contact anupkarwa@gmail.com.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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