Illustration credit: Derek Monteiro
The other day, my chest puffed up with pride. In an interaction on science and technology, our Supreme Leader challenged the world to invent a wind turbine that will extract energy, water and oxygen from air, all in one go. Many called this impractical, untested and a pie-in-the-sky kind of idea. I see it as a remarkable piece of provocation to challenge us into attempting the near-impossible. If even partially successful, it may solve a significant part of the Climate Change problem. Imagine a farmer running a turbine, generating his power needs from the wind, and simultaneously sucking out water for his fields and oxygen that humanity needs. Perhaps with the abundance of water and oxygen thus generated, we may not need trees. So, tree cutting, an exercise that surprisingly irks many citizens, may cease to be a bone of contention. In fact, one may clear entire forest lands without triggering protests, except from the No-ones (who according to one leader, are Dalits, Tribals and Muslims – and not considered human by the rest). This is an idea that the mining and construction industry should welcome. An ingenious idea with 3 direct benefits and multiple collateral ones!
Never mind that earlier ideas like using sound and light to kill Corona, harnessing gas from sewers to make tea – did not work out. A leader’s role is to provide a grand vision and stimulate minds. We are a country where aircrafts were invented in the Vedic era, internet was available during Mahabharata, plastic surgery was used for the creation of an elephant God, stem cell science and test tube technology was used to conceive babies for the blind King of Hastinapur and cows have been inhaling and exhaling oxygen. We can either feel sorry that modern civilization does not give us due credit, or we can feel immense pride and look forward to the next era of Indian dominance in science. I give below a partial list of provocations that the Supreme Leader may use to spur more breakthrough innovation.
Provocation 1: Does No mean Yes?
Can we invent a low cost, easy-to-use gadget that all women and girls carry that reacts to the word “No” and paralyses the man nearby, who has invoked that response from the woman? The gadget will be agnostic to the man’s age, caste, religion, economic background and ideology. According to the NCRB report of 2019, some 46 women were screaming NO somewhere in India every hour. The men with those women were not listening. The proposed gadget should cause paralysis for a few hours, giving the men ample time to reflect on their actions. It should also record the man’s voice and facial features and link it to their Aadhar numbers residing in the NCRB database. Three strikes, and the man should face a permanent physical disability as a chastisement. More severe reprimands for those guilty men who were in uniform or in public service or were related to the women.
Provocation 2: The Death of Farmer Suicides
Why should over 10 farmers commit suicides daily in Maharashtra alone? Can we not invent a simple solution that gives them remunerative and stable prices? Here’s one. The governments sponsor a panel of say 5 lakh farmers countrywide, picked randomly. They agree with the farmer associations on a list of 25-50 essential commodities related to agriculture – rice, wheat, pulses, millets, edible oils, sugar, etc. The panel of farmers, in every season, submits real time data of their inputs and costs, including those related to family labor and land. At harvest, they also submit crop yields. All submissions are done through government sponsored smart phone and apps. Some assumptions are made on wastages, spoilages, etc. The Minimum Support prices are generated based on these costs + a markup of 50%. They are announced publicly. All trader purchases must happen, by law, at these prices. The maximum retail prices are legally mandated at MSP + 50%, for nationwide implementation. As an illustration, a Rs 2000 per quintal cost for rice would mean an MSP of Rs 3000 per quintal for farmer and an MRP of Rs 45 per kg for the consumer. The MSP for rice this year is below Rs 1900 per quintal! And retail prices range from Rs 45-65 per kg.
Provocation no 3: No More Shit
How about upgrading the over 90 million toilets built in the Swachh Bharat Mission? Turning them into waterless toilets which also convert human pee and poop into clean energy and fertilizers and limit emissions. Over 2/3rds of human solid waste is untreated in India, finding its way into streams, rivers, soil and eventually into our food and water. 2% of GDP is lost due to poor sanitation. We may be generating nearly 0.5 gigatons of human poop every year. Collecting it safely, converting it in a manner that its carbon is safely stored in soil and perhaps the hydrogen becomes the source for clean fuel, could be one way. Such pilot solutions are available. Scaling up may be needed.
Provocation no 4: Here Comes the Sun
It is said that “solar paneling” the Thar desert can satisfy the energy needs of the whole nation. Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan is a good prototype. Now that unit costs of solar energy are extremely competitive to the coal fired thermal energy costs, can we think of an “energy generation solution” that also helps in greening the desert? Solar energy and reversing the climate to get higher rainfall and increased vegetation? John Liu led the initiative to re-green the Loess plateau in China, an area roughly 3x the size of Thar desert. Over a period of 20 years, a once barren land got converted into a biologically rich and diverse ecosystem that supports the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. India should take the 4 per 1000 global initiative seriously – of increasing the storage of carbon in soil by 0.4% each year, as a way to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Accord
Provocation 5: Looking for a Sea Change
It is surmised that in the next 100 years, sea water levels could rise as much as 6 meters and entire countries could get submerged. India has a long shoreline, roughly a fifth of the circumference of the earth. What John Liu is to desert regreening, Carl Hodges is to seawater-based agriculture. This model proposes to mitigate the potential seawater level rise, by diverting it to canals that run off into dry, barren lands as well as lagoons set up for shrimp farming. The shrimp farm waste provides natural manure for the barren lands, allowing the growth of food crops, slowly restoring the flora and fauna of the region and providing livelihoods. Salicornia bigelovii, an edible succulent, was grown in saline water, fertilized with shrimp and tilapia poo. The plant also produces an abundance of oil seeds that have made this one of the most promising biofuels for the aviation industry.
Provocation no 6: Lifting the Poor
Over 2/3rds of India lives in poverty. Can we target lifting them out of poverty within a decade. How about employing Abhijit Banerjee’s idea of transferring a “productive asset” to each. It can be a farm animal, or land or inventory to start a small trade. Give them skills in making use of the asset and managing their money, sustenance money for 12-18 months, healthcare and mentoring. The model has been piloted in Bangladesh with great success, impacting over a half million families – a country, which has astonishingly overtaken India in per capita income.
Provocation no 7: The Venom of Love
What’s the antidote to the caste brutality that the Hathras victim faced? Or to the over 45,000 incidents of similar caste-based violence that take place annually? Or the single-minded misogyny hurled at the girlfriend of an actor that committed suicide? Or the almost casual way in which an ad depicting communal harmony was trolled relentlessly? Or the normalization of the “incarceration of a whole state and its people”? Or the keenness to pass laws that will grade citizenship? Or the reluctance to show any meaningful compassion for farmers and workers but a tearing hurry to support crony capitalism? Or the façade of being an eco-warrior-nation while allowing the plunder of rich bountiful forests?
Where does one find this serum – the Venom of Love? The nation wants to know.
(Chandru Chawla has a normal day time job and writes at night to retain his insanity
Derek Monteiro is a laidback artist, poet and composer, who dabbles in jazz to annoy and disperse pesky pigeons on his windowsill)