People's Basic Needs

How India Calculated the Height of Mt Everest To Amazing Accuracy

After years of disagreement, Nepal and China recently reached a consensus on the height of Mount Everest. Until now, the globally accepted height, taken from the 1955 Survey of India, was 8,848 metres. The updated result declared last week was 8,848.86 metres — a mere 86 cm more than the observation made 65 years ago.

For an order of 8,000 metres, this is a minuscule difference — about 0.01%. To get an idea of the scale, this would be the equivalent of adding four minutes to a month of 31 days. At a time when advanced technologies like GPS and LiDAR were not around, how did the Indian surveyors of 1955 estimate the height so accurately? And where does the difference of 86 cm come from?

The basic principle: Triangulation

The basic idea involved in measuring a mountain is very simple and very old. It is the same geometric principle that was used even 100 years before the Survey of India, when Everest was first measured and discovered to be the highest mountain peak. As part of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, a 19-year-old Indian mathematician, Sikdar, calculated the height of the Everest (back then, known as Peak XV) in 1852 as 8,840. Just 8 metres short!

Firstly, let us look at how to calculate the height of a pole or a building, without scaling it with a ruler. In the image below, we want to measure the unknown height of the pole (H)To do so, we look at the top of the pole from a certain known distance, from the base of the pole (d). A telescope-like instrument known as a theodolite outputs the angle Θ between the top of the pole and the horizontal ground. These are often used by land surveyors near construction sites.

As seen in the diagram, these three lines — (1) the distance between the eye and the pole, (2) the line joining the eye and the top of the pole, and (3) the unknown part of the height of the pole — form a right-angled triangle. Using the relationships between the angles and the sides of this triangle, we can now calculate the unknown segment h. Calculating distances using triangles is known as triangulation.

In a right-angled triangle, the tangent of an angle is the ratio between the length of the side opposite to it and the length of the side adjacent to it. In this case, tanΘ = h/d. From this, we can get h as d multiplied by tanΘ,

For example, if d = 100 metres and Θ = 60°, then h = 100 X tan 60°. For those unfamiliar with trigonometry, the tangents of angles have fixed values. Tan 60° has a value of 1.732. You can then calculate h as 173.2 metres. Suppose the height of the eye-level, x, is 2 metres, then the total height of the pole is 175.2 metres.

The height of a mountain

Applying the above geometric estimation directly to a mountain is not possible, as we do not know where exactly the base of the mountain lies. But it’s easy to solve this. All we need to do is measure the angle to the peak from two different points, separated by a distance d. This will yield two right-angled triangles with a common side along the mountain. The geometry looks as follows.

Now, the height of the mountain can be expressed using the distance between the two viewing points and the co-tangents of the angles subtended, as shown in the figure. Co-tangents are the reciprocal of tangents.

Other corrections: Tweak tweak tweak

There are a few more complications to account for, before we can get a satisfactory estimate.

First of all, mountains don’t sit on an even surface. There’s no way to tell if our viewing points are on the same horizontal plane as the mountain base. To correct this, we need to know each point’s height and the base’s height from mean sea level. This is done through a technique called high-precision levelling.

To calculate the local mean sea level, we also need to take into consideration the effect of gravity. A large mountain range such as the Himalayas will have a lot of gravitational influence, which means that the local sea level has to be taken higher than usual. Gravitometers and other instruments are used to measure the local gravity and fix the final baseline.

Lastly, the angles of elevation are affected by the refraction of light due to the dense layers of mountain air. As light moves from one layer of the atmosphere into another with different density, it gets deflected. The result is that the peak is not where it appears to be. This is similar to how a stick dipped at an angle in a container of water looks bent. Therefore, in the calculation of the angles, the shift due to multiple refractions also needs to be adjusted.

We do not know yet if the 86 cm difference from the 1955 Indian survey is due to better measurements of these corrections terms, or due to an actual increase in the mountain’s height. The Himalayas are, after all, fold mountains, and the tectonic activity beneath pushes them up continuously. The paper detailing the new measurement is to be published soon, and may clarify the source of the deviation better.

But one thing is clear — some simple trigonometry and a few dedicated mathematicians can lead to astoundingly accurate results.

Bengaluru Startup Helps Farmers Grow Healthy Crops, Save 50 Million Litres of Water

Roshan Zalte, a grape farmer from Maharashtra, rushed to his vineyard one morning to inspect his crop after a mobile app suggested his crop was infected with a common fungal disease called Downy Mildew. On inspecting some of the leaves, he found it to be true. “The crop seemed to be okay on the surface, but a closer look revealed the beginning of the infection,” says Roshan, who has a vineyard spread across 15 acres of land.

A few months earlier, the grape farmer had installed a device in his vineyard that claimed to help analyse weather conditions, predict diseases infesting his crop along with guiding him through their entire growth trajectory. The data would be shared with the help of an app.

Today, the farmer says, without the device he would remain unaware of the Downy Mildew infection on his crop for almost a week. The notification allowed him to make necessary interventions and control the spread of the disease. Since 2019, hundreds of farmers, like Roshan, have benefited from the device from a Bengaluru-based startup — Fyllo.

The startup says that over 500 farmers have used the device since its launch in 2019, saving 50 million litres of water and allowing for better quality produce.

Real-time analysis of crops

Founders of the startup, Sumit Sheoran and Sudhanshu Rai were colleagues in a Bengaluru-based IT firm and came from farming families.

Being aware of the issues that plagued farmers since childhood, their discussions often involved exploring solutions for the community. But it was only after three years of working together that they decided to launch a startup that would help the community.

“We were not sure about which area to address and therefore started listening to the Kisan call centre — a government reach out programme for farmers. After analysing the common queries, we realised that 85 per cent of the questions asked by farmers were about diseases affecting crops. We studied 15 million queries out of which 12 million involved farmers asking about what diseases they could expect in their farm,” says 28-year-old Sumit, an IIT Roorkee alumni.

Team Fyllo shifted base to Nashik to develop the product with farmers.

Sumit adds that they decided to develop a device integrating software and hardware to sense and analyse real-time data of crops and predict diseases. Explaining the concept, Sumit says a 15×15 cm device weighing about 1.5 kg is installed in a farm analysing 13 parameters, including humidity, wind, rainfall, temperatures and so on. The device connected to the server calculates the data to predict rainfall, the amount of sunlight and diseases the crops may be susceptible to. The device is solar powered and battery operated. The sensors are plug and play allowing ease of installation.

“The farmers register on our Fyllo mobile app, add details about the crop they are growing, the type of soil, and other basic information. The device then starts analysing the data and guides the farmer about when to irrigate the farm, what precautions to take, timely steps to initiate for the best productivity of the crop,” Sumit says adding that the farmers only need to irrigate the land when the notification is received. This process, the duo claim, has helped save 50 million litres of water.The startup calculated the irrigating patterns of the farmers on parameters such as frequency and time duration for each cycle. “The farmers who used to irrigate the farms once in five days for about 14 hours a day, changed the frequency to once in 10 days and watered their farms only for seven hours daily. The irrigation pattern changed as the app suggested the quantity and frequency of water to be released for the farm, depending on the weather conditions. Such practices helped to reduce excess water used for irrigating the farms,” he adds.

He further adds that depending on the rains and micro-climatic conditions, the device predicts the diseases that may ensue. “This helps in two ways. The advance notification helps reduce the cost of treating the disease through interventions in the early stages. The other benefit is that since the damage is less or avoided, the farmers do not face any loss in the final farm produce,” he explains.

A shared approach

Sumit says the device can predict weather conditions and its impact on crops about 15 days in advance, specific to the crops and location. Each device costing Rs 50,000 can cover 100 acres of agricultural land. “A large group of farmers can invest in a single device. Here, each farmer has to register and enter the different varieties of crops they are growing. Accordingly, personalised notifications are issued,” he adds.

Impact by Fyllo since 2019.

Sudhanshu Rai, the co-founder, says the scientific approach through efficient irrigation and timely interventions, improves the quality of produce. He adds, “Many farmers agreed to have been able to export some of their agricultural produce, which has benefited them economically.”

Though many farmers are reaping the benefits, Sudhanshu says that it was initially difficult to convince farmers to use their product. “We introduced a subscription model where the farmers could try the device for a few months and once they’re convinced of its benefits, they could make the purchase. We shifted base to Nashik and spent over a year with the farmers to improve the product and address the issues on the ground by including valuable inputs from farmers. The farmers were willing to accept the technology that predicts diseases but doubted the accuracy. The challenge of internet connectivity was an issue and persists in remote parts,” he adds.

However, more work lies ahead for the duo as the device only works on crops like grapes, capsicum, tomato, potato and pomegranate. “We plan to add functionality for guava, banana and five other vegetables in coming months,” Sudhanshu says.

He says that to have farmers on board from Maharashtra and Karnataka. “We will start working with more farmers from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu soon,” he adds.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

34-YO Delhi Man Moves To Ooty, Coaches Tribal Kids To Run In the 2028 Olympics

In August 2018, Karan Singh, a native of New Delhi, established the Indian Track Foundation in Ooty with one dream — to train kids to represent India in the 2028 LA Olympics. For years, he himself nurtured the dream of representing his country in athletics, but a series of knee injuries and surgeries cut short his aspirations.

Undeterred, Karan has been using all the things he learned while spending six years in Eugene, Oregon, US — one of the best places for middle and long-distance running in the world — for promoting promising talent in middle and long-distance running from the remotest tribal hamlets of Jharkhand.

While in Eugene, Karan learned that there were many differences in the way athletes were trained in India versus how they were in America. Simultaneously, he was part of the Indian National Camp in 2011. He would return to India and visit Bengaluru. This, he says, was cathartic. “I had this realisation that there are many athletes in our country who are much younger than me, and far more talented,” the 34-year-old tells The Better India, adding, “If I were to take them to the US and train them, they would have a much better shot than me in achieving things for the country.”

Karan is the head coach at ITF

He says that at the National Camp, living with fellow athletes made him realise how differently athletes were coached in the US. “Everything is more structured there. The system is in place. Out here, athletes don’t really know what’s going on, it’s like they’re just running without a plan in place. They don’t have the facilities to realise their own potential, and there’s a lack of direction that’s provided to them,” Karan says, adding he was aware that flying athletes to the US won’t be the most feasible option.

An epiphany

In 2012, while he was at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Karan saw Arjuna awardees Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut, get overlapped on the track. “These were the best athletes in India, but they couldn’t compete with the best in the world. I felt terrible, because that’s not their fault. It’s the system. You can’t just say that the girls are not good enough — you have to dig deep into why it happens. They were just ferried to the US and left in an unknown environment. Someone needed to guide and direct them,” he recalls.

This was Karan’s epiphany. “Sometimes, you get a calling in life to make a change,” he says.

In 2013, he returned to India with a mission. Here, he started the Indian Track Club in Delhi in August the same year to train athletes in the city. The programme was built on what he had observed in the US. “I just wanted to get kids to run. Back then, there wasn’t much happening for Indian runners in terms of opportunities. There’s a difference between running in school and representing your country,” he says.

To change the current state of track and field running, Karan knew something special had to be done. “There was never a process in place like there is for, say, cricket. Today, if Virat Kohli retires, there will be another one ready to take his place. That’s how robust the system is for that sport. I wanted to do that for running,” he says.

‘A life in the mountains’ Karan with his team

While he jumped into the venture head first, he was overwhelmed by the response. “Hundreds of kids wanted to be coached by me,” he recalls. “Kids from all walks of life came in. Some did really well at the state and national levels. But even then, I knew the Olympics was a far away dream. Of course, I was proud of what we were doing, but when it came to winning medals for India, we still had work to do.”

In 2015, Karan developed a scouting programme, specifically with the aim of bringing in kids from outside Delhi. For this, he zeroed in on five children from Chiraigaon, a small village outside Varanasi. He brought them to Delhi and covered all their expenses, and set them up in a house near his place in Gurgaon. But the plan didn’t work out in the long run.

Disheartened but not willing to give up, Karan reached out to one of his coaches in the US. “I explained my dream to him, told him I was aware of the immense talent in India, but had no idea how to utilise it to its fullest potential. He told me I needed to go and live in the mountains, and like a monk. He said I needed to take that plunge, and dedicate my entire life to it. I had to actually make it, not just reach the top,” he says.

This helped Karan realise he needed to step out of his comfort zone. Over the next two years, he slowly arrived at the decision to move to the hills. He also used this time to go on various scouting trips, and reach out to children who came from humble backgrounds and could be worked with in the long term. It took a lot of research and time commitment. Finally, Karan moved to Ooty with his wife in 2018.

“I wanted to reach out to kids in even the most remote parts of the country. In 2018, I set up the Indian Track Foundation (ITF), and reached out to a few kids from Daltonganj in Jharkhand. We zeroed in on five children,” he says.

There are 10 students at ITF, aged between 10 and 16 years

The athletes, aged between 10 and 16 years, were all put up in the same house. Karan and his wife took care of their expenses, including their education, while raising their own children. A year later, five more children were enrolled. The kids progressed fast. Karan had spent three years building a strong base for them, and within a year, the kids won in the state meet, and one even became a national champion. The funding for this endeavour came through CSR.

Home away from home

Apart from the kids, Karan has also recruited 21-year-old Sabyani Surin, who everyone affectionately calls Saby. She acts as both a “warden” for the kids, as well as an assistant coach at ITF. “She’s like an elder sister to these kids,” Karan says.

Saby belongs to Musurmu village in Jharkhand. “When coach isn’t here, I train the kids, look after their food and other needs. I’ve been training with him since 2018. I love it here. In fact, whenever coach isn’t here, I don’t feel nice,” she tells The Better India.

Fifteen-year-old Walter Kandulna, who is also from Musurmu, is the team’s leading athlete. With help from ITF, in 2019, he was the Tamil Nadu State Champion in 2000m, a record he himself broke this year. In 2020, he also was the National Cross Country Champion. Like all members of his team, Walter hasn’t gone back home since March last year, when COVID-19 began. But he doesn’t miss home too much, he says. “Initially, being away from my parents was hard. But living with a coach is like living with my parents. It doesn’t feel like we’re away from home and I enjoy training here,” he adds.

Karan adds that he faced no resistance from parents when he told them he’ll be taking the kids to Ooty to train. “We found a lot of good local support. The locals make all the decisions in these areas. We spent around six to eight months coaching them about the entire process, telling them about our goal of training them to run in the Olympics, and how we would be going about it. Everyone was on board,” Karan says.

Young and unafraid

Speaking of his knee surgeries, Karan says he never viewed them as hindrances. In fact, his first knee injury is what pushed him down the path of running, he says. “I first injured my knee while practising the long jump in school. I did it incorrectly, and fell and buckled my knee. When this happened, I was part of the junior state cricket team. I loved cricket, but was always aware that it wasn’t my calling. Due to my injury, I had to take a year off to rehabilitate. This gave me a lot of time to think. I thought of Steve Prefontaine, an American long distance runner that I really admire, whose one leg is shorter than the other. That year gave me a major push towards track and field. So had that injury not happened, I might never have decided to dedicate my career to running,” he adds.

Karan had a series of knee surgeries when he was younger

Because Karan had already formed a base in cricket, his athletic training kept getting subsequently harder. “The injuries kept coming back to back. I started too late, the training wasn’t enough, among many other reasons,” he says, adding, “But I never thought of it as a hindrance. Looking back, I realise now that with my injuries, I was never going to make it. But when you’re young, you think nothing can stop you, and I persevered. If I had stopped, the opportunities I got would have never happened,” he says.

Karan’s heartfelt endeavour to mentor and coach talent from the deepest and most unreachable corners of the country comes from the need to provide these kids with a figure he himself lacked at their age. “I just thought about how, when I was younger, if someone like a scout had reached out to direct me towards an athletics programme, I might’ve been somewhere else today,” he says. With this thought in mind, he’s going to great lengths to ensure that the 10 kids under him don’t look back on life with the same question.

For more information, one can visit Coach Karan’s Instagram, as well as that of ITF.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

These 15 Changemakers Are Exactly The Ideals India’s Constitution Expects of You!

Born in the aftermath of a bloody partition and independence on 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India completes 72 years in 2021. Modelled on the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, the voluminous document contains more than 450 Articles and 12 Schedules. It has been amended more than 100 times since its inception. 

The constitutional ethos of the remarkable document promises equality, justice and fraternity to the people of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. But often our lack of knowledge combined with indifference fails to uphold its true spirit. 

However, there are exemplary examples of people who feel it’s their solemn duty to be governed by the words of the Constitution. From fighting against human trafficking to upholding the Right to Education, here are heroes who make Republic Day worth celebrating. 

Right to Equality

When Sanjay Kumar saw dogs and a few people from the Dom community fighting over leftover food in 2005 in Bihar’s Parbatta village, he quit his modelling career to abolish the practice of untouchability. The incident forever changed the course of his life, he moved to the village from Delhi and fought multiple battles over the years.

Sanjay Kumar

From educating children, establishing a local collective of backward communities like the Chamar and Musahar to helping people find an alternate livelihood, Sanjay has been diligently working across the various villages in Bihar. Some of his students have gone to become engineers, a feat that seemed unfathomable a few years back. 

In the process, Sanjay was threatened, kidnapped and nearly poisoned but that didn’t stop this braveheart to establish the right to equality and discharge Article 17 that prohibits the practice of untouchability. Read his story here

Like Sanjay, Delhi-based Nipun Malhotra has also been addressing the issue of inclusivity for several years now. He was born with arthrogryposis, a condition in which the muscles in his arms and legs are underdeveloped and would stay that way through life. 

Nipun Malhotra

He fought his way through discrimination with immense support from his parents but after several job rejections, due to his disability, Nipun established ‘Nipman Foundation’ in 2012 to make office premises accessible to people with disabilities. Gradually, they expanded their mission and started working in the area of health and advocacy for persons with disabilities. 

Nipun has even knocked the doors of the Delhi High Court to file a PIL seeking the official recognition of Indian Sign Language (ISL), for hearing. Though the plea was dismissed, it opened a public debate on the issue. His cause for creating an inclusive atmosphere is nothing but an attempt to uphold various fundamental rights including Articles 14, 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment) and so on. Read his story here

Sukhsohit Singh

Sukhsohit Singh’s tiresome battle to become the first thalassaemic in the country to get into the civil services is also praiseworthy. Now an officer of the Indian Defence Accounts Services, he was once declared “unfit for all services”, because he suffered from a rare blood disorder called Thalassaemia Major. Not one to give up, he approached multiple government bodies and health institutions to fight his case. 

His cause garnered attention from the likes of then I&B Minister Ambika Soni, the Minister of State Dinesh Trivedi and even former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. With the right intervention, Singh successfully set an example of the right to opportunity. Read his story here

Right to Freedom

The definition of the right to freedom (Article, 19, 20, 21A & 22) entails everything, from life and personal liberty to speech and expression. But more often than not, these rights are deprived to the vulnerable. 

Case in point is female foeticide and infanticide where girls are denied their right to life due to the appalling customs of certain communities even today. That said, there is no denying that this evil practice has reduced over the years, thanks to feisty individuals and organisations across India. 

Dr Harshindar Kaur and her husband, Dr Gurpal Singh

Dr Harshindar Kaur and her husband, Dr Gurpal Singh from Punjab are one such couple. They have been advocating for the rights of the girl child since 2008. Their first breakthrough came in a small village near Patiala where they were instrumental in improving the sex ratio, from 845 girls per 1000 boys to 1013 girls per 1000 boys. In the last 10 years, 415 girls have been fostered by the Trust, with the financial responsibility of their education. Read more here

Gulabo Sapera

Like the doctor couple, Rajasthan-based folk dancer, Gulabo Sapera has also been addressing the right to live in her own way. She was buried alive at birth due to her gender but her father saved her. She went on to become a famous folk dancer and even established her dance form called ‘Sapera’. 

Looking back on her journey, she realised if her father had succumbed to the societal pressures, she would have been dead. So, she decided to be the guardian angel for others in the village and started imparting free dance classes. 

“Girls are considered to be a burden and hence denied basic rights. So, I empower them with dance and help them earn money through stage performances,” says Gulabo. Read her story here.  

Right Against Exploitation  Neeraj Murmu

On 1 July 2020, Neeraj Murmu from Jharkhand was conferred with the Diana Award 2020 for his fight against child labour. The 22-year-old, who was once trapped into the clutches of hazardous mica mines, set up a local school for children in his village in 2018. In the last two years, his school, ‘Kailash Satyarthi’ has educated over 200 impoverished children and rescued 20 child labourers from the hazardous occupation of mica mining.

Rambhau Ingole

In red light areas of Nagpur, daughters are expected to join their mothers as sex workers and sons become pimps, often selling his own mother or sister. Rambhau Ingole, a social activist has been ending this horrifying reality for the last 30 years. Through his organisation ‘Amrapali Utkarsh Sangh’ (AUS), he rescues the children from brothels and rehabilitates them into his residential school.

Hasina Kharbhih

Apart from forced labour, human trafficking is another grim exploitation issue. Fighting this vehemently in the North East is 47-year-old Hasina Kharbhih from Shillong. Her organisation, the Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has saved 72,442 people over the last two decades. 

To address the issue systematically, the NGO formed the Impulse Case Info Centre (ICIC), which records, compiles, and keeps track of all relevant information on human trafficking cases.

The ICIC has more than 1,000 NGOs and government departments from not just India, but also Southeast Asia, on its network, thus creating an extremely valuable database. Read her story here.

Ashif Shaikh

Thirty-seven-year-old Ashif Shaikh’s organisation, Jan Sahas, has helped rescue over 41,000 manual scavengers and supported 15,000 rape survivors through legal action and employment, among other initiatives. But, fighting this battle against unjust and discriminatory traditional customs has not been easy. Threats and warnings have become a part of his life, one that he has been successful in overcoming. He says that threats do not stop him, they only encourage him to continue.

Viji Penkoottu

Women working in shops and malls in Kerala’s Mittai Theruvu, SM Street, a shopping area in Kozhikode were denied a basic human right — the right to sit or visit the toilet, Viji Penkoottu, a 52-year-old activist, decided to fight for change. Thanks to her efforts, The Kerala Shops And Commercial Establishments (Amendment) Act, 2018, was eventually passed after an 8-year struggle for flexible working hours and a place to sit. 

Raising voices against unjust practices or customs that are deep-rooted in society is not easy. But these crusaders are doing it all to guarantee the right against exploitation under Articles 23 and 24 for a safer future. 

Right to Education 

Broken benches, a massive staff crunch, poor quality of infrastructure, irregular attendance and the lack of motivation to study or teach are the usual scenarios associated with government schools. 

To ensure the Right to Education is not compromised due to the aforementioned problems, Amarjit Singh Chahal from Punjab’s Mansa district is showing exemplary efforts to change the tarnished image of government schools. 

Amarjit Singh Chahal

Amarjit, who received the National Award on Teacher’s Day in 2019, is responsible for modernising four schools and increasing the enrollments of students. He has actively worked to ensure community participation where teachers, local panchayats and the parents have a sense of ownership towards the schools.

Surender Singh

Similarly, Surender Singh, a primary teacher at a North Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) school in Adarsh Nagar is going the extra mile. For the last 16 years, he has been dedicating an extra hour after school so that his students can participate in national level competitions and pass state-level entrance examinations. He has helped 300 of his students get scholarships in the last 10 years. 

Rohit Kumar Yadav

Rohit Kumar Yadav, a Government Railway Police (GRP) constable is running a school for the poor in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh for the past two years from his own salary. Every month, he keeps aside Rs 10,000 for the school that now teaches 90 children from underprivileged backgrounds. 

Right to Legal Aid & Civic Rights 

Ramesh Mudiraj

Ramesh Mudiraj from Hyderabad is a crusade who helps people implement their rights. He has been on a mission to educate Indian citizens about the Indian Penal Codes (IPC) for women’s safety for two years. Ramesh has taken around 500 sessions in government and private schools, corporates, police departments where he talks about crimes like dowry, acid attacks, rape, eve-teasing, trafficking, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault and cyber-related crimes. He then lists out the IPC provisions to fight these. Furthermore, Ramesh has helped women file more than 100 First Information Reports (FIR’s). Read his story here

Meanwhile, Bengaluru-based CMCA (Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness) equips children with the knowledge of civic awareness, environmental campaigns, social equality and fundamental rights of citizens among other things, to help them grow up into ideal citizens of India. Currently, CMCA reaches 50,000 young people in 11 cities and over 450 villages, via over 600 educational institutions. It has trained over 2 lakh children to be active civic warriors in their neighbourhood.

These staggering initiatives by individuals will go a long way towards making India a genuinely inclusive democracy. This Republic Day, The Better India lauds their tremendous efforts.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

14-YO Conducts Online Classes To Help Senior Citizens Become Tech-Savvy

Senior citizens often face troubles with using technology. Some struggle to download new applications, and others even to send a simple text message. Fourteen-year-old Tanvi Arvind’s grandparents found themselves in a similar predicament.

In 2018, Tanvi, a resident of Chennai and student of Class IX, was visiting her grandparents in Bengaluru during her summer break. That’s when she noticed how they were struggling to send a message through their smartphones, which they found to be too confusing. So she took it upon herself to help them navigate their phone.

“I taught them all the basics — from unlocking the device to opening an application, typing a message, using voice dictation, and even adding events on the calendar. In the end, they were very happy and thankful that I had taught them patiently,” Tanvi says.

Tanvi explaining the smartphone to a couple.

The same year, she attended a 25-day event organised by Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA). “It was after this programme that I gained the confidence to start my own business. I decided to offer coaching to senior citizens on how to use their smartphones and named the venture TechEdEn,” says Tanvi.

Helping residents across Chennai

Once Tanvi had an idea about what she would teach, she asked friends and family to spread the word. “I did not advertise through social media, because my target audience were people who did not know how to use the internet. To my surprise, many people got in touch with me and requested help for their parents or grandparents,” Tanvi says.

Accompanied by her sister, she would personally visit the client’s homes. She would charge them Rs 500 for an hour’s session, and if they were in a group, she would charge Rs 300 per person. She would focus on whatever the clients wished to learn, which usually entailed how to send messages, download apps, or stream videos.

Tanvi says she has not decided how she would spend the money, but has been saving most of it. In 2019, she reached out to 68 people through in-person classes, and in 2020, she taught 25 people through online classes.

Tanvi teaching a senior citizen.

“For the online classes, I had to change my teaching pattern. Since everything was happening virtually, over zoom calls, I started to teach them how to make video calls, mute themselves, turn on the video, and send video call invites,” Tanvi says, adding that she even taught some citizens how to order food and groceries online.

‘A patient approach’

G B Patankar (81), a resident of Bengaluru, was one such person that benefitted from Tanvi’s online classes during the lockdown. He says her patient approach towards teaching him how to use Zoom was remarkable. “Thanks to Tanvi, I was able to join a zoom call hosted by my nephew, and participate in a group call. Through the lockdown, I was able to stay in touch with my siblings and colleagues. Her initiative is deeply appreciated, and I had recommended her to other colleagues who needed help learning such technology,” he says.

For now, Tanvi has taken a short break from teaching seniors, owing to her incoming annual exams. But during the holidays, she plans to resume her service, either through in-person teaching or online classes, depending on the COVID-19 situation. Apart from that, she is also working on a handbook with shortcuts on how to navigate through smartphones for the citizens she has already taught.

Tanvi says, “This way, after my class, if anyone has doubts, they can just refer to the handbook.”

To get in touch with Tanvi, you can reach out to her through her website.

5 Pre-Republic Day Speeches by Presidents That Told Us How to Preserve the Republic

Every year, on the eve of Republic Day, the President of India delivers an annual speech which often calls for collective introspection. The speeches seek to remind the Indian populace not only about how far the country has come since its inception, but also how far we have to go in the pursuit of core ideals that the makers of our Constitution had spelt out.

As President Ram Nath Kovind addresses the nation on the eve of India’s 72nd Republic Day, we look back at five pre-Republic Day presidential speeches of real significance.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, 1950

When India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, made his inaugural Republic address on 26 January 1950, he spoke of the core principles of our Constitution, while also marveling at how this incredibly diverse country had come together under the umbrella of one Union.

“Today, for the first time in a long and chequered history, we find the whole of this vast land, from Kashmir in the north to Cape Comorin in the south, from Kathiawad and Cutch in the west to Cocanada and Kamrup in the east, brought together under the jurisdiction of one Constitution and one Union which has taken upon itself the responsibility of the welfare of more than 320 million men and women who inhabit it,” he said.

In the context of our recent Independence from British Rule and the mass displacement caused by Partition, it became imperative for India’s first citizen to offer his healing touch and articulate the spirit of freedom and openness that would define our Republic.

“We are anxious to rehabilitate and resettle all those displaced persons who have suffered and are still suffering great hardships and privations. Those who are handicapped in any way deserve special help. It is essential that in order to achieve this we must safeguard the freedom that is ours today,” he said of India’s desire to help those displaced by Partition.

“India has never prescribed or prosecuted opinion and faith and our philosophy has a room as much for a devotee of a personal god, as for an agnostic or an atheist,” he added. This is a particularly important point, given the times we live in today.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. S Radhakrishnan, 1967

This ranks among the most articulate Presidential addresses ever given. He reminded us of how the destiny of our Republic solely lies in our hands.

“Civilisation is not built with brick and mortar, steel and machinery but with men and women, with clarity of mind, charity of heart and spirit of cooperation. A vision of equality is an act of moral perception, which enables a man, in private or public condition, to see himself in his neighbour. To say of other human beings, or other groups of human beings, that they do not need, or they do not deserve, the advantages that we enjoy, is to dehumanise them,” he noted.

As he goes on to add, subsequently, “Our ties subsist because they were not of iron and steel, or even of gold, but of the silken cords of the human spirit.”

Another remarkable feature of this speech was his ability to take a principle and (indirect) shot at the government of the day. “The last year has been the worst since Independence, full of natural calamities and human failures. In spite of our increased agricultural output and industrial production, we are unable to meet the requirements of a growing population. The drought conditions are worse than ever before in this century. Yet, even after making allowance for all the difficulties of the situation, we cannot forgive widespread incompetence and the gross mismanagement of our resources,” he said.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

KR Narayanan, 1998

KR Narayanan, the first President from the Dalit community, did something quite unique in his first Republic address. As Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a scholar and former civil servant, who worked on President Narayanan’s staff once, wrote in a 2018 column for The Telegraph:

His Republic Day address, 1998, is classically Narayanan. It coils its wisdom into history. Describing Republic Day as “the anniversary of a defining moment in our history”, he traces its origin to the 26th of January of 1929 when the Indian National Congress declared Purna Swaraj to be “the right of every Indian”. Narayanan quotes from its resolution: “…if any government deprives a people of their rights and oppresses them, the people will have the further right to alter it or abolish it”. And he then gives a reading of the condition of the nation in 1998. “We are witnessing…” Narayanan says, “an uncontrolled growth of communalism and casteism, snuffing out the light of secularism in our society” and an “increase in corruption, violence and criminalisation of politics and society”. He adds, “…[the] benefits of development do not flow from one compartment to another”.

All three readings define the condition of the nation at the time. They define the condition of the nation today.

Looking back into history, President Narayanan also spoke of our responsibility in “dealing with these dark forces threatening the fabric of our society”.

Citing MK Gandhi’s historic 1947 fast in the face of communal carnage in Kolkata, Narayanan harked back to a moment when a distinguished leader sought to prevent Gandhi from taking that step. The leader had asked Gandhi, “Can you fast against goondas?”

Gandhi replied, “It is we who make the goondas. Without our sympathy and passive support goondas will have no leg to stand upon. I want to reach the hearts of the people behind the goondas.”

Narayanan further added, “In the situation obtaining to-day, the people have the right, the duty and the opportunity to dissociate themselves from individuals and groups who propagate and indulge in corruption, violence, and crimes against society. They must not give them passive support, as Gandhi ji advised, and shun and isolate them in society.”

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, 2007

Dr. Kalam quite easily stands among the most popular presidents this country has ever seen. A man of science, Dr. Kalam was also a symbol of hope, progress and vision for many Indians. In his memorable 2007 pre-Republic Day speech, he extolled the nation’s progress in poverty eradication, economic development, technological advancement and also spoke of the necessity of progress in science and fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship within Indian families. It was a speech that took the nation right into the heart of modernity.

Akin to former US president John F Kennedy’s historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” President Kalam’s topic for that day’s speech was, “What can I give to my nation?” But a prerequisite for any contribution to the nation is the courage to overcome the challenges that stand before each citizen. Addressing the importance of courage, Dr. Kalam recalled his own personal experience of flying in the Su-30-MKI fighter jet alongside Wing Commander Ajay Rathore.

One young man asked me, “Mr President, please tell me, since you have flown in the supersonic fighter aircraft at the age of 74, were you afraid any time during the flight.” I told the young man, “All the 40 minutes of the flight, I was busy on the controls and instruments and experiencing the “g” build up. I was advised by the captain to track targets and also look at the ground using the synthetic aperture radar. In addition, I was observing the performance of the instruments developed indigenously. I was continuously busy in the flight operations and I didn’t have time to allow fear to enter into me.” Now, dear young friends who have assembled in front of me and the nation, I have a message of Courage for you.

Courage to give

Courage to think different,

Courage to invent,

Courage to discover the impossible,

Courage to travel into an unexplored path,

Courage to share knowledge

Courage to remove pain

Courage to reach the unreached

Courage to combat problems

And succeed,

Are the unique qualities of youth.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Pranab Mukherjee, 2013

The foundation stone of any Republic Day address made by the President is the Constitution and the basic principle it enshrines. Our independence holds little value if we the people did not know what was required to be done with our hard-fought freedoms.

As President Mukherjee said at the time, “India did not win freedom from the British in order to deny freedom to Indians. The Constitution represented a second liberation, this time from the stranglehold of traditional inequity in gender, caste, community, along with other fetters that had chained us for too long.” However, of greater significance were what he said about two very contemporary issues of our time—income inequality and women’s safety.

Following the horrific gangrape and murder of a young woman in Delhi, which led to mass protests, President Mukherjee spoke of the importance of women’s safety.

“The time has now come to ensure gender equality for every Indian woman. We can neither evade nor abandon this national commitment, for the price of neglect will be high. Vested interests do not surrender easily. The civil society and the government must work together to fulfill this national goal,” he said. Although President Mukherjee could have done away with repeated references to a woman’s role as a wife or mother, he nonetheless brought greater focus to the problem in front of the whole country.

Another key issue he spoke of was income inequality.

“The young cannot dream on an empty stomach. They must have jobs capable of serving their own as well as the nation’s ambitions. It is true that we have come a long way from 1947, when our first Budget had a revenue of just over Rs 171 crore. The resource base of the Union government today is an ocean compared to that drop. But we must ensure that the fruits of economic growth do not become the monopoly of the privileged at the peak of a pyramid. The primary purpose of wealth creation must be to drive out the evil of hunger, deprivation and marginal subsistence from the base of our expanding population,” he said.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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How Tech Empowered 1 Lakh MP Govt School Teachers to Provide Quality English Classes

This article has been published in partnership with Marico.

In several parts of India, especially rural areas, many school students have a common fear — reading a passage from their English textbooks aloud or even holding a conversation in English. It often rouses a feeling of uneasiness which stems from apprehension about a second language and the lack of relatability.

A teacher based in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district, Jagdish Chaurasia, recognises this fear. He has witnessed it numerous times in his classes where students, too overwhelmed by the rules of the language, would be hesitant to pronounce even short words.

“Words that ended with ‘tion’, ‘sion’ or ‘oo’ often confused the students into silence. As teachers, we tried to do our best to help them overcome that fear, but as non-native English speakers, even we had our limitations. We realised that while the rules of grammar applied to the language remains the same, what is needed is a change in the process of instruction,” says Chaurasia who teaches 20 students from Class 1 to 5.

His point highlights the pressing question around the state of English education in India — in a world where English literacy is increasingly crucial, what is then, the solution?

And, Bhopal-based middle school teacher Vishruta Singh has an answer.

“The fear is mostly because students don’t understand or relate to the words and phrases in the English language. Often they are taught a set of rules to be followed without any explanation of the ‘why’. But, there are alternative ways of familiarising them with English by making it relatable to their native language. Once teachers can break that ice and establish a channel of communication, English is no more a foreign concept,” says Singh, who teaches 83 students, from Class 6 to 8.

A Solution for Change

A teacher of Science and English with over 20 years of teaching experience, Singh believes that this cycle of change begins with the reformation of how English language is taught.

“A teacher is a facilitator who helps students grasp and understand the information in the best possible way. But, information is ever-evolving. So, we teachers also need to keep updating ourselves. Back in the days, when we learnt English, it was done quite differently. There used to be a lot of rote-learning involved which often failed to bear results in the long-run during practical use of the language. And so, those methods cannot be replicated in today’s world where spoken-English has become so crucial. Education, especially in the English language, needs to be more practical and useful,” adds the government school teacher.

Echoes of this realisation inspired Marico’s Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala’s education initiative and the Government of Madhya Pradesh to sign an MoU to introduce a robust Teacher Empowerment Programme.

Singh and many more teachers like her have immensely benefited from the programme that aims to make the English language more accessible than ever before.

The tech-led innovative initiative by Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala in partnership with an NGO, LeapForWord (LFW), is making it possible for the teachers to understand English language education in a newer light. The training not just entails learning the techniques and clearing the basics but also focuses on doing so in an engaging and fun manner. For instance, by comparing common phrases in Hindi and translating them into English, the teachers have found it to be far more effective and relatable for the students, compared to simply memorizing them. One of many techniques of demystifying the language also involves working on pronunciations. For instance, the technique to learn that words ending with ‘tion’ and ‘sion’ often sound as ‘shun’, barring exceptions.

Nihar shanti Pathshala Funwala is enabling this through ubiquitous technology platforms like WhatsApp and Youtube, making it more accessible to a wider network of teachers. The objective here is to democratise innovative and interactive content and teaching approaches to bridge the gap of English education in government schools.

“Creating a robust curriculum and devising the best teaching methods is only the first step. It is followed by the crucial- outreach to as many teachers as possible and implementation on a larger scale. And with Marico’s Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala’s support we have been able to do that across government schools in Madhya Pradesh,” says Ayush Jain, Project Lead – Hindi States, LFW.

Employing this model, Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala has empowered over one lakh teachers in just two months, who in turn will benefit millions of students studying in government schools.

Spreading English literacy in rural India

“We had a dedicated team to establish outreach in remote parts of India, but over time, the physical transit became quite tedious. It was then when we began to shift our focus online to create a bridge of social impact through technology. We began to work on several aspects like improving learning outcomes, identifying impactful solutions, efficiently using existing technologies to make the content more accessible, etc. in rural areas and connecting them to our program with just a click,” says Udayraj Prabhu, Executive Vice President, Business Process Transformation & IT at Marico Limited.

That is when the Teacher Empowerment Programme by Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh government came into being.

“Since India is becoming a global hub it is a prerequisite for people to know and speak in English, in order to sustain and serve the job demands. Several studies also claim that English literacy ensures better opportunities and an almost 30% increase in annual income. With time it has become a crucial skill for higher education and employment and yet it continues to be inaccessible for many students in rural and remote parts of the country. Our objective through the Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala initiative is to fill that gap effectively,” says Prabhu.

Through the seamless use of technology, Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala has been providing quality education through IVR based training modules, digital classrooms and app-based learning solutions among other efforts in the past.

“Through technology and unique teaching methodology we provide the tools to the teachers, but it is they who then make the best use of it. And, we have been quite pleasantly surprised to see several instances where teachers went out of their way to create innovative and fun videos and content for their students, especially to help them cope amidst the pandemic,” concludes Prabhu.

Born in a Tin Shed, Swadeshi ‘Atlas’ Became India’s Largest Cycle Manufacturer by 1965

Atlas Cycles is proud to announce that it has achieved production of 10,00,000 cycles…These cycles are known for being sustainable, light speed and fine finishing. We are exporting cycles to Burma and the Middle East Countries. On this occasion, we reiterate our pledge to make the country self-reliant and industrialised.” 

This message on a coloured poster created a stir in the advertising industry and middle-income households in 1961. It was far from a regular cycle ad as it had a sari-clad woman riding it. She is seen happily waving at her husband and two children. 

The company had just completed 10 years and recorded a path-breaking production record. Carrying forward the spirit of shattering glass ceilings, they addressed two misconceptions in a dignified way. 

One was, of course, the gender stereotype that women always sat behind the man on the cycle. It was probably for the first time that a woman was not shown advertising a domesticated product like detergent or masalas. The other one denoted cycle’s comfort level by showing it can accommodate any attire, in this case, a sari.

“I remember seeing the ad and telling my grandfather to purchase the cycle that the model sat on. Finally, there was a cycle for women I thought,” recalls my aunt, Sapna Chauhan, whose first cycle was the Atlas. 

It would be safe to say that like Sapna, Atlas Cycles proved to be an integral part of all our childhoods. Nostalgia factor aside, the affordable pricing made the company a common man’s go-to transportation mode, both in the rural and urban areas. 

Unfortunately, the cycle that became a symbol of inheritance, had the most tragic shutdown amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, its last manufacturing unit in Sahibabad shut on June 3, which happens to be World Bicycle Day. 

Citing a lack of funds to run the factory, CEO, N.P. Singh Rana, labelled it as a ‘temporary’ closure till they can raise around Rs 50 crore. As the disheartening news of India’s iconic brand shutting down came to the fore, thousands of people shared their fond memories with the humble cycle on various social media platforms. 

As many hope and pray that the company peddles their way back into our lives, we trace the history of this humble commuting option. 

A Tale That Began In A Shed Source

Late Janki Das Kapur from Haryana was the man behind giving India an affordable cycle and creating uncountable memories.

But did you know that the company which once boasted of being the number one cycle production company had a modest beginning? 

Kapur established Atlas Cycle Industries (ACIL) in 1951 inside a shed in Sonepat, Haryana. For the next year, he worked rigorously and produced the first bicycle in 1952. In the same year, he set up his first factory complex sprawling 25-acres. The factory produced 12,000 cycles in the very first year and there was no looking back. 

In 1958, Atlas made its debut in the international market and since then it has exported to several countries including the Middle East, Myanmar and South Africa. In 2004, the company exported to 50 countries, with a dealer network of 4,000 in the domestic market. 

The staggering sales increased the market share of Atlas and made them one of the largest cycle manufacturing players in India. 

Diversification & Downfall 

Under Kapur’s futuristic vision, Atlas Cycles experimented and innovated year-after-year to cater to people from all arenas. He knew in developing India, the cycle would be a viable accessory for everyone, from a milkman to economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Yes, Sen’s bicycle, which he used for his fieldwork in West Bengal, is displayed at Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. 

In the beginning, Kapur kept the cycle models basic, ones that would help millions move from one place to another. Once Atlas became a household name, they introduced the ‘Rebel’ cycle that was marketed as an adventure bike. Next, came the Atlas Concorde that had 10 gears. In 1978, Atlas launched India’s first racing cycle, a stint that made them the official supplier of bicycles for the Delhi Asian Games in 1982. 

To accommodate the mounting operations, he set up more units in Sahibabad, Rasoi and Gurugram. Its combined manufacturing capacity stood at a hefty 40 lakh cycles per annum in 2020.

Surviving cut-throat competition with both domestic and international players in the market was anything but easy. As decades passed, the purchasing power of the common man rose and a middle-class household was able to afford a car or at most a bike. 

The first wave of trouble hit in the early 2000s with family feuds. The company split into three divisions between the third generation Kapurs, each getting a fraction of the management and marketing zone. They even roped in actor Sunil Shetty, tennis star Sania Mirza and Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra to endorse the cycle.

The next blow came 10 years later with the shutdown of Malanpur plant in Madhya Pradesh. The Sonepat plant followed the same route and closed down in 2018. And the looming pandemic was the final nail in the coffin. 

Despite the tragic market fall, Rana hopes to revive the company once it succeeds in raising crores after selling surplus land. “Demand is not a problem; the market is very good. We have a very strong dealer and supplier base. We are a 70-year-old brand and very well accepted in the market. We will bounce back,” Rana said in an interview with PTI on 5 June 2020. 

Whether or not Atlas Cycles will make a comeback in our lives in the foreseeable future is something that one will have to wait and see. Until then, we can all be grateful for Janki Das Kapur for introducing the possibility of owning a vehicle for every class into a reality in India. 

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

A 1500 Km Road Trip in an Electric Car, For Just Rs 700: Jaipur Engineer Shares How

A few months ago, Aakash, an electronics engineer based out of Jaipur, had made plans with his friends to take a long road trip to Longewala, a town in Jaisalmer district on the Indo-Pak border.

While his friends would travel in their IC-engine vehicles, Aakash was planning on driving his Tata Nexon electric vehicle (EV), which has a premium battery range of 312 km. But his friends cancelled on their plans last minute. Aakash, however, was already committed to the trip and had made extensive preparations. Instead of his friends, he would take his wife Kaushal.

Thus, in the wee hours of Christmas morning in 2020, the couple embarked on their nearly 1500 km round trip from Jaipur to Longewala, taking them through Pushkar, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. With little to no hiccups, they completed the trip to Longewala and back in over four days.

“We started the journey from my home in Jaipur to Pushkar, where we stayed overnight and charged the vehicle. From Pushkar, we went to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and then Longewala town on the Indo-Pak border,” says Aakash, the founder of Aha 3D innovations which designs 3D printers.

What’s particularly remarkable about this trip was that they spent approximately only Rs 700 to Rs 800 charging their EV. If Aakash had taken this trip in a conventional IC-engine vehicle, that has an average mileage of 15 km per litre, he would have spent close to Rs 9,000 just on petrol. So, how did Aakash take this long road trip to the Indo-Pak border with barely any hiccups and pay so little to power his EV?

Aakash and Kaushal at the start of their journey.

What Do You Need to Take Your EV Out on Long Road Trips?

First off, EV drivers need to ensure that they can charge their vehicle at any given point.

To start off, Aakash made an extension cable and attached it to an electricity meter (electrometer) so that he could measure the electricity consumed and pay the owner of the concerned establishment. During the trip, he also carried an earthing kit because a lot of the hotels and establishments did not have proper earthing.

“EV owners often resort to making DIY earthing kits (an iron rod covered by copper wire is inserted into the ground). As you may know, earthing is the process of protecting against unwarranted spikes of electricity that can cause damage to an appliance or in this case my EV. It’s important that earthing is available for this vehicle. There is an iron rod, which I can pitch into the ground and connect a wire to it. This creates earthing, and then this wire connected to the vehicle charger. During my journey, I discovered more ways of earthing like using a copper plate for water-tank based electrical earthing and clamp for getting earthing with any metal structure like plumbing (GI pipes), hand-pumps, railings, pole, electricity board pits, etc. This was the most important discovery I made and would advise the same for anyone who plans on such road trips,” notes Aakash.

EV drivers need earthing to charge their EVs safely, and most places he came across during this trip didn’t have it. Everywhere, they had to make adjustments to create that earthing. After the trip, he developed an EV travel charging kit, which contains all the necessary elements like the extension cable with an energy meter, an indicator to note if the wiring is okay nor not, an iron rod, a copper plate and any other equipment one needs on long EV road trips, which costs up to approximately Rs 9,878. This product is available on the Aha3D website.

“We also ensured that every 200-odd km, we planned a stop at a hotel or any such establishment to charge the EV. We stayed at hotels, my friend’s home, and desert camps, which we called in advance to ensure that electricity was available. At every place we stopped for the night, we charged our car for a good 10 to 11 hours. Ideally, however, we would charge the EV when the battery hits 15% and therefore require just 8 hours for a full charge,” he says.

In the absolute worst-case scenario, however, if drivers are stranded on the highway with no charge, they can either call up the nearest workshop that can help them tow the car or ask a passing-by vehicle to help with the same. Towing the EV helps charge the vehicle because of a feature called regenerative charging (regen) or tow charging.

“All you need to do is carry your towing rope in your car boot and you can just hail a vehicle ready to tow your car. For every 1km the vehicle is towed, you approximately gain 1.1% charge. If you tow the vehicle for 5 km, you gain 6% of battery charge. Every 1% charge gives you a range of 2.5 km. So, if you tow your vehicle for 5 km, you roughly gain a range of around 15 km in addition to the 5 km you have already towed for,” says Aakash.

Thus, another key part of his EV travel charging kit is the tow rope. Of course, he does not recommend this option and it is to be used only in dire need circumstances. If drivers follow the basic plan, they wouldn’t even face such scenarios.

Road Trip: Stopping for tea.

Saving Energy

EVs like Tata Nexon are very predictable and it can tell exactly how many kilometres are left before the battery runs out. If drivers have to travel more than what their car is predicting, then what they can do is adjust their driving pattern to gain more range.

“For example, if you’re driving at 80 kmph, you get a range of 200-220 km. But if you discover that this is not good enough, you can always start driving 40 kmph, and this will increase your range to over 300 km. Therefore, at no point were we stranded. Although the company claims a range of 312 km, if the Tata Nexon is driven at speeds of 90-100 kmph, the battery range drops to about 160 km on a single charge. If they drive like monks at speeds of 40 kmph, they can extend the range to up to 320 km,” observes Aakash.

It really depends on speed and acceleration. When accelerating hard, a driver burns a lot of battery energy. Sudden breaking also eats up a lot of battery. They don’t want to break too hard or often and instead tap into regen (regeneration of energy). EVs have this feature that if a driver is speeding and wants to stop, they can save energy while stopping.

As this article in electrek noted, “Regenerative braking uses an EV’s motor as a generator to convert much of the kinetic energy lost when decelerating back into stored energy in the vehicle’s battery. Then, the next time the car accelerates, it uses much of the energy previously stored from regenerative braking instead of tapping in further to its own energy reserves. It is important to realise that on its own, regenerative braking isn’t a magical range booster for EVs. It doesn’t make EVs more efficient per se.”

Road Trip: On the highway

To stop an EV, all anyone needs is to let go of the accelerator pedal. In the process, the car will start the process of regenerating energy. If a traffic light is 50 metres ahead, one can just let go of the accelerator and the car will stop while saving energy. Besides fast acceleration, even sudden breaking would result in a loss of battery energy.

“Our biggest challenge emerged while travelling from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Along the route, for about five-odd kilometres, the highway was under construction. The road was all sandy and rocky. These conditions put a strain on your EV battery. We wasted something like 10% of energy in covering just these 5 km. As a result, during the following 148 km we were supposed to travel towards our next destination, I only had a battery range for about 118-120 km. To make matters worse, we were travelling at night, around 9.30 pm, and the road was very deserted. There was no fallback option of towing as well,” he recalls.

Instead, they started driving really slowly at around 45-50 kmph and that helped them cover this distance on less charge. However, while returning from Longwala to Jaisalmer, they had sufficient charge and travelled at speeds of 100 kmph on the highway.

Speaking of the fuel cost saved from travelling in an EV, Kaushal says, “If we travelled in an IC-engine vehicle with a mileage of 15 km per litre, we would require approximately 100 litres of petrol to cover the 1500 km round trip. Say, we take the price of petrol at Rs 90/litre, I would have spent Rs 9,000 just on fuel costs. In the EV, we spent about 200 units of electricity to charge it. At Rs 7/unit, it comes to about Rs 1,400, which is barely over 15% of the total fuel costs of travelling in an IC-engine vehicle. In fact, there were certain places, where they didn’t even charge us for the electricity consumed. Out of these 200 units, we paid for only 100 or Rs 700. Our fuel costs, therefore, was in the range of Rs 700 to Rs 800 for the entire trip.”

Road trip experience in Rajasthan.

Confidence with Assistance

Thanks to this trip, Aakash has gained a lot of confidence in taking his EV out on the highways cutting through Jaipur. Since the trip, he has made regular road trips.

“There is a place about 115 km from my house which I visit every weekend, so that’s a round trip of 230 km. On the periphery of Jaipur city, a lot of fast charging stations have emerged particularly along radial highways to Delhi, Ajmer or Kota. Tata Motors has set up these fast charging stations at places where you can charge your EV and hit the highway. Moreover, all the major cities are within a radius of 250 km. I am currently planning a visit to my native village, which is 230 km from Jaipur,” he says.

Before the trip commenced, Aakash had reached out to Amit Goel, a senior manager at Tata Motors, through their informal online network called National EV Owners Club. He asked Amit for routes and technical back-up. In return, Amit supported the couple by lining up commercial workshop owners in the State to support their endeavour.

Having said that, with the right charging infrastructure, the day isn’t far away when travellers hitting the highway on their EVs becomes the norm.

Despite limited charging infrastructure, Aakash and Kaushal managed a 1500 km round trip with ease. Instead of guzzling litres of petrol or diesel and polluting the pristine air outside our cities, maybe next time you can take your EV out too.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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Farmer Learns From Tribals, Brings Assam’s ‘Ready-To-Eat’ Rice Variety to Telangana

In a fast-moving world where cooking is often deemed cumbersome, ‘ready-to-eat’ food items are the way to go. Along similar lines, a farmer from Telangana is cultivating magic rice, which only needs to be soaked in hot or cold water before it’s ready to be eaten.

“I come from an agricultural family, and soil is my first mother,” Srikanth Garampally (38), who hails from Karimnagar district, tells The Better India.

Srikanth has been a farmer for 30 years. “Apart from magic rice, I also have a collection of 120 rice varieties, including navara, mappillai samba and kuska,” he says. Besides, he also cultivates 60 varieties of paddy and organic vegetables on his 12-acre land, which he has taken on lease.

A quick trip to Assam

Srikanth’s tryst with magic rice began two years ago, during a temple visit in Orissa. “There, I met a person who was standing with me in the queue to collect prasad. We struck up a conversation, and I introduced myself as a farmer. When I told him about my collection of rice, he asked if that included magic rice. That’s how I first heard about it,” he says.

Srikanth forgot to ask his new friend for his contact information, but had managed to attain enough information about this new variety of rice, in terms of who cultivated it and how it is cooked. He then travelled to Assam, where magic rice is grown, and visited Gauhati University to understand which breed of this rice was best to cultivate.

University authorities helped him select the boka saul, or mud rice. They told him that the rice, which requires zero fuel to cook, contains 10.73 per cent fibre and 6.8 per cent protein. The Government of India’s Intellectual Property India (IPI) body has also given the rice a GI tag. The authorities also told Srikant that he can learn more about the cultivation process if he visits the lower Assam tribes, and hill regions like Nalbari, Darrang and Dhubri.

‘With good intentions’

Right away, Srikant went to visit the Assam tribes. “There’s a misconception that the tribes will attack people from outside communities, but if you approach them with good intentions at heart, they will help you. When the tribe members found out I wanted to grow boka saul and make it more accessible and available to our future generations, they were more than happy to help,” he says.

He lived with the tribes for more than a week to learn more about magic rice. There, he was taught about the cultivation process, and how it was similar to cultivation of regular paddy. The tribe was moved by the farmer’s dedication, and gifted him 100 grams of magic rice before he left for Telangana.

Some time around June 2020, Srikanth, with help from his wife and parents, began cultivating the magic rice on a small patch of his land, and harvested around 15 kilos. “The cropping period is 145 days. I used some rice to take back home, and distributed the rest to the Gauhati University, and my friends and relatives,” he says.

He adds that the rice can be made by soaking in either hot or cold water for about 30 minutes, and its temperature will depend on that of the water. “My personal favourite,” he says, “is hot rice with sliced banana, mixed with curd. My three kids prefer eating it cold, and my wife and parents like it hot,” he says.

From the 15 kilos, Srikanth collected around 5 kilos for cultivation this year. “I don’t want to see this cultivation from a financial angle. I will use my yield as seeds to produce more. Maybe, after three or four years, I’ll sell the rice to people, depending on the harvest,” he says.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)