Our Technological Institutes like IIT/NIT are irrelevant

Two years back I visited my alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, to meet up with an old classmate of mine who is now a teacher there and also to show the institute to my wife and son. During the visit, I found, just inside the main administrative area, next to what used to be called the Open Air Theatre in our time and which has now been renamed as the Spring Fest Arena, a biomass incinerator for producing electrical energy which was lying dysfunctional. This symbolised for me the irrelevance of technological institutes in our country to the real needs of our development. One of the biggest drags on the Indian economy is the huge outgo of foreign exchange for the purchase of crude oil. Therefore, any rational planning system would demand that we find an alternative to this which will not only reduce the outgo of foreign exchange but also enhance our energy security. Decentralised generation of electricity through the anaerobic incineration of biomass can provide cheap, abundant and renewable energy that is cleaner than coal and also does away for the need of a widespread distribution network. It has the advantage over solar photovoltaic cells of being able to provide for high tension loads also and the capital investment is much lower. Dencentralised production of energy can give a big push to the local economy especially in rural areas. Yet neither is the Government interested in pursuing this alternative and nor our technological institutes doing anything to promote them.

IIT Kharagpur

The main building of IIT Kharagpur shown in the picture above has a glow sign over the portico which reads “Dedicated to the Service of the Nation”. This is a hollow slogan, however, because the research being conducted in IIT KGP is very little connected with the well being of the vast majority of the people of this country. At a time when, solar energy has become such an important source of decentralised energy and countries like Germany have single handedly brought down the price of solar panels through research, the IIT KGP campus produces and uses a paltry 250 kilowatts or so of solar photovoltaic energy, when it can easily take care of all its low tension needs from solar energy. Combining with the use of bio-mass incineration for the high tension needs the campus can not only become self sufficient in energy but it can also export into the grid. One would expect that a leading technological institute of the country would do this and develop models that can be replicated in large numbers throughout the country. But that is a far cry. Similarly, in the other very stressed sphere of water management also, very little is being done. There is neither stormwater recharge or harvesting nor treatment and reuse of wastewater. Once again the institute could have developed a model for decentralised water management on its campus for replication throughout the country but it hasn’t. Faced with the difficult problem of hopping internet through wireless to the school in Kakrana we had approached some of the professors in IIT Kharagpur for a solution. They were just not interested even though for them it wouldn’t have posed much of a problem. Eventually the problem was solved by a young engineer who is into developing alternative communications solutions.

When we were studying there, sometimes the glow sign used to malfunction and read “Dedicated to the Vice of the Nation” causing us much ribald merriment. However, I have now come to think that not only my alma mater but all technological institutes in this country are indeed dedicated to the vice of the nation which is the promotion of consumerist capitalism!! Actually the nation itself is not a homogeneous entity. As we know these days it is very much contested with multiple definitions of nation and nationalism resulting in continuous conflict of murderous proportions. Generally, the downtrodden majority do not even have a conception of nation and are too caught up in making two ends meet. The elite take advantage of this to distort the agenda of development of this country and nowhere is it more visible than in the irrelevance of our technological institutes. I have visited many institutes for conferences but nowhere have I found decentralised energy and water management implemented.
Ideally any technological institute in this country needs to implement the following on its campus to present itself as a model in decentralised energy and water management –

Renewable Energy

1)      All low tension electricity supply should be directly from solar photovoltaic panels in the daytime either by inversion to AC loads or directly to DC loads. To avoid the problem of storage and the consequent loss of energy and the costs involved, higher solar production should be done during the day and fed into the AC supply grid and a corresponding amount withdrawn from the grid during the night. The solar panels can be deployed on top of all of the many buildings that are there on the campus.

2)      For high tension electricity supply, anaerobic biomass incinerators coupled with gas generators should be installed. One such incinerator is already there on the campus near the Open Air Theatre but it is not functional at the moment. Husk, stalk   and other agricultural bio-mass is available in plenty and this can be used as the fuel for the incinerators along with other agricultural bio-mass. The bio-char that comes as a byproduct can be powdered and sold to farmers for enriching their fields or converted into briquettes for use in cooking stoves. Charcoal is also an excellent adsorbent of foul smelling gases so the powdered bio-char can be packed in small cotton bags and used ad deodorants in bathrooms and toilets.

Water Management

1)      A detailed stormwater recharge system should be implemented and not a single drop of stormwater should be allowed to leave the campus all of it being recharged into the aquifers both shallow and deep. With a little more investment the stormwater can be harvested and stored in underground tanks for use in bathing and washing also and with RO systems in drinking. In fact with both recharging and harvesting the water needs of the campus can be met within its area only.

2)      All wastewater also should be treated and reused for toilet flushing and gardening. All buildings in the campus should be retrofitted with dual plumbing systems and the wastewater after decentralised treatment should be reused for flushing and gardening. Only the water for bathing, washing and drinking should be supplied from a central system.

Solid Waste Management

1)      All solid waste has to be segregated at source itself into bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable categories. The bio-degradable waste can be used to produce bio-gas for use in the messes and canteens of the hostels and guest houses.

2)      The non plastic non-bio-degradable waste can be incinerated in the incinerators to produce electrical energy, while the plastic waste can be recycled.

First published


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Rahul Banerjee Written by:

Rahul Banerjee, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (B.Tech in Civil Engineering) and Centre for Environmental Planning and Techonology University, Ahmedabad (Ph.D in Environmental Planning and Management) is a social activist and development researcher. He works along with the Bhil Adivasis (indigenous people) to synthesise their traditional qualities with modern skills and contribute to equitable and sustainable development as architects of their own future. Through the organisations Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, a trade union and Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (dhasgraminvikaskendra.com), a public trust. He blogs at http://anar-kali.blogspot.in/

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