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TBI Blogs: Meet Kalyan Paul, the Man Using Technology to Bring Sustainable Change in India’s Himalayan Regions

India’s Himalayan region is home to some of the country’s most abundant natural resource reserves, yet much of its population still lags behind the rest of the country in access to basic amenities. Kalyan Paul and his organisation Grassroots hope to help the region’s people overcome this gap through the application of technology.

In 1992, Kalyan Paul set up Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation with a clear vision and objective—focus on the initiation and implementation of fundamental ways and means for renewal of hydrology, and restoration of ecology.

Born on September 3, 1956, Paul is a driving force in promoting holistic mountain development programmes. His efforts have initiated appropriate technologies for conserving natural resources and setting basic amenities, which have improved the quality of life of many. Some of the areas of his activities include water, with projects like infiltration wells for drinking water, Roof Runoff Rainwater Harvesting, and Surface Runoff Rainwater Harvesting; energy, where he works on biogas units; and sanitation, where he has pioneered the Twin Pit Water Seal Sauchalaya.

The loss of environmental assets is viewed by Paul as an additional component of poverty, leading to his engagement with conservation of natural resources, focussed on the inter linkages of Forests and Water, through revival of traditional moisture conservation methodologies and provision of fresh vegetal cover on degraded village commons. Continued interactions during multi-stakeholder workshops led the government to allow SHGs of women to enter reserved forest areas for revival of this tradition.

Over the years, these efforts have been consolidated in the Gagas river basin in the Almora district of Uttarakhand, largely through the participation of women.

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It is indeed worth noting that at a grass-root level, appropriate institutional structures have been formed to work on the renewal of river basin hydrology and its linkages with sustainable mountain farming systems. By 2011, over 4,300 households were engaged in 101 SHGs (2-3 per village) and 39 Gadhera Bachao Samitis (1 per village), forming the bedrock for sustainable change and development.

The most appropriate methodology to implement all these initiatives with maximum effect and use is by involving the youth and building their capacities to be barefoot engineers. Paul strongly believes that this will help tap and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit in village communities. This methodology led to the establishment of the Kumaon Artisans Guild, wherein these barefoot engineers help in creating awareness regarding the importance and benefits of appropriate technologies, and assist communities in adopting such technologies through active engagement and cost sharing.

Under his leadership, and in partnership with various civil society organisations and the government, Grassroots, over a span of 20 years, has benefited communities with outreach programmes spread over 800 villages in 12 districts in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, India.

Infiltration Wells have proven to be a suitable technology for community-managed drinking water systems – a boon indeed. The benefit of 500 infiltration wells has spread to 350 villages, 55 blocks, and 12 districts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, providing 2.40 million litres of safe drinking water daily to 17,600 households with close to 100,000 people.

This has further reduced the drudgery of women and children who otherwise spent time travelling to distant locations to fetch water.

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Sanitation infrastructure, comprising of twin-pit water-seal sauchalayas, has been built in 4,000 households in the Gagas river basin, and installation is 100 % in some Gadheras. This technology, along with roof run-off rainwater harvesting structures, has been demonstrated in 40 large schools in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, benefiting more than 20,000 children, especially girl-students.

In the area of renewable energy, biogas units have been set up in various far-flung watersheds. More than 2,400 households now have access to clean energy for 3-4 hours daily to cook food. This has drastically reduced the drudgery, health hazard, as well as biotic pressure on scarce natural resources.

Communities in the river basin have been enabled to raise over 2,00,000 saplings per annum of around 50 species of native trees/shrubs in various small village-level nurseries. This, in turn, has encouraged community participation in protection and conservation of ecology, besides gainful employment at the village level.

Farmers have continuously expressed the need to strengthen livelihood opportunities within the river basin. Steps have been taken to revive cultivation of traditional rain-fed crops, introduce high value crops like chamomile, and improve soil fertility. Alongside, Grassroots has been modernising small irrigation systems to enhance production and incomes. For example, in Pidyadhar micro watershed in Himachal Pradesh, the existing open-channel irrigation system has been modernized by laying of underground irrigation pipes and construction of appropriate inlet chambers at the headwaters, which has led to tripling of income for around 100 families.

For the past few years, hundreds of small farmers have benefitted through establishment of backward and forward linkages which provide a bridge between “farm gates to fork” through the brand HimKhadya – safe food from the Himalaya.

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Grassroots has also introduced free-range poultry activity, wherein over 500 households—with an average of 10 chicks of Kroiler birds—are enabled to earn through sale of mature hens at a premium, as well as get nutrition at home through egg consumption.

The projects are supported by Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Jamsetji Tata Trust, World Wide Fund for Nature, Artha – Sustainable Development Fund, Government of Himachal Pradesh, Government of Uttarakhand, and Government of India, amongst others.

Grassroots, spearheaded by Paul’s zeal, continues to develop programmes and act as an interface between communities and other stakeholders to promote sustainable mountain development. He plans to increase the force of barefoot engineers due to his strong belief that Guilds of Barefoot Engineers are the most effective and appropriate way for technology transfer at the grass-root level. This will further enable village communities to determine their own destiny, establish goals, take risks, and invest their time and energy to achieve their aspirations for a better life, leading to self-sustainable and independent communities.

Soon, Paul wants to bring the 10 states of the Indian Himalayan Region on the planning table, extensively promote the concept of barefoot engineers, and work towards innovative capacity-building mechanisms. It is Paul’s dream to see Grassroots as a community-based and community-run organization.

Kalyan Paul is a Fellow of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, and a Lemelson Technology Fellow of the USA and Salzburg Global Seminar, Austria. He has presented several papers on sustainable mountain development, both at national and international forums.

Special features on the activities of Grassroots have been highlighted in the media: Social Watch on Doordarshan, Unstoppable Indians on NDTV, and in the 2009 Outlook Business – 50 Social Entrepreneurs edition.

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Currently, Grassroots is engaged in two significant challenges—firstly, replacing the old masonry model of a biogas digester with a more robust pre-fabricated FRP digester so that the benefits of renewable cooking energy can reach thousands of rural homes each year. Secondly, as an active member of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat of the FAO, a new venture has been launched to promote mountain products at a global level. This venture is called Mountain High!, and is attempting to provide a platform for marketing handicrafts and food from the world of mountains. The idea is to get policy makers to think deep about the contribution of mountain communities as custodians of biodiversity and water resources, besides the spectrum of cultural heritage.

In the year 2012, Kalyan Paul received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in the category for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development.

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Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation was established in 1977, in memory of Jamnalal Bajaj, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. The Foundation aims to serve the ideals to which he had dedicated his life and promotes Gandhian constructive activities in which he was deeply involved during his lifetime.

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