‘Minds on the margins are not marginal minds’. With this philosophy, the National Innovation Foundation was formed by Prof. Anil K Gupta with the help of Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India. Since its formation in 2000, the foundation has been helping grassroot innovations and helping people from economically weaker sections to live a dignified life.
As Prof. Gupta says that he looks for “odd balls” in the society those who are not at peace and want to try something new to quench their thirst for creativity. Through shodh yatra Prof. Gupta and his fellow yatris try to find out these people and their innovative creations.
Shodh yatra is a journey for the search of knowledge, creativity and innovations at grassroots. Through this yatra, his team tries to reach the remotest part of the country with a firm belief that ‘hardship and challenges of natural surroundings are the prime motivators of creativity and innovations’.
Poverty doesn’t stop people in rural and semi-urban India from innovating cheaper alternatives for their expensive counterparts. This jugaad was looked at with a difference from the people working for NIF and Honey Bee-a non profit organisation- founded by Anil Gupta.
India since time immemorial has remained a hub of creative fraternity and these art expressions can be seen on the timeless pages of history. Many people of this country are carrying various art forms and vocations for generations and that’s how they have successfully saved the Indian traditional art forms.
Inside Indian rural hinterlands, there are so many people who may barely be literate but their expertise in their area of work will give you bucketful of surprises. Like the brothers duo Mehtar Hussain and Mushtaq Hussain of Assam who have developed a windmill using bamboo and tin sheets.
Mehtar and his brother while growing paddy in winter season needed irrigation from the well. Continuous pumping by hand involves a lot of effort and drudgery. At the same time, pumping out water by using diesel sets was a big drain on their resources. He pondered over the problem and looked around for possible options. Seeing wind as a viable source of energy, he thought if he could develop a large wheel, which could run on wind power, and connect this wheel to the handle of the hand pump, he might pump out water continuously as the turbine rotates.
Both of them then started building a windmill unit, using locally available materials such as bamboo, wood, strips of old tyres, pieces of iron, etc. The first prototype became functional in only four days with the help of a local carpenter.
BRINGING TO FORE
Their effort was recognised by NIF and their windmill with the help in its design from Gujarat Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network (GIAN) and NIF, later found applicability in the salt farming regions of Gujarat for pumping up underground brine. This initiative is supposed to diffuse low cost windmills in salt farming areas of Gujarat.
Anil Gupta shares more, “They get royalty of Rs 82,000 each year for it. This became the source of earning for them, who only few years ago didn’t have money for a pump set and used to irrigate their four bighas of land through hand pump. This was made possible by the use of technology transfer and Intellectual Property Rights and it is possible to enrich people only by virtue of their knowledge.”
The state contributes around 70 per cent in total salt production in India. Mehtar was awarded in the recently concluded sixth National Grassroots Innovation Awards. Another such innovation came from Gurmail Singh Dhonsi who invented a rapid compost maker and a tractor operated tree-pruner. He received his Award from the President Pratibha Devisingh Patil.
Sharing his journey, an elated Singh said, “I never dreamt of getting a prize that too from the President of India. I’m really thankful to NIF & SRISTI for guiding and financially supporting me. Entire credit for this achievement goes to these people”
He got a loan of rupees Five lacs under micro venture innovation fund from SIDBI which is a joint initiative by NIF and the bank. The foundation also helped him showcase his innovation at different exhibitions in the country on its own expenditure.
There were several surprises for the masses in the exhibition, which was organised for the very first time in the president house premises. These awards are biennial and have been presented by the present and former presidents of India except at one occasion.
Rural India has remained out of much of the development cycle in the country and As Anil Gupta puts in, “The winds of liberalisation have not touched much of rural India, especially as far as creating an environment for entrepreneurship is concerned. In the hinterland, the process of registering and getting the certificates and various other permissions to embark on a start-up is still so slow and full of corrupt intermediaries that many budding entrepreneurs run out of patience and give up.”
He suggests some solutions but as he repeats, Indian political system has remained a major roadblock in the way of rural and urban people. Corruption kills the very spirit for innovation but who cares?
In one of his articles he throws light on the ground reality in the rural areas, “Rural areas also face an acute shortage of skilled workforce. The establishment of the National Skill Development Corporation, or NSDC, has done little to ameliorate the situation. For instance, in Gujarat more than 70 per cent of positions for faculty in government polytechnics have not been filled. This lackadaisical attitude is thwarting the development of appropriate skills at the grassroot level.
The foundation is doing an excellent job through filing patents for the rural people and so far around 600 patents have been filed. But the bigger challenge of getting financial support for any such gigantic task remains unsolved. The institution also passed through a rough patch that lasted for over a decade.
For Prof. Gupta this was not an easy journey but his determination brought the fruit at last. On the budget front he explains, “Current situation is only slightly better but not very good. NIF is the institute of Department of Science & Technology and the budget is around rupees 8 crore. This award function and education takes us more than rupees 1 crore and everybody knows that it needs more money. Government has money for everything but not for this as yet. I don’t think that there is any other institution which has given more value for the money than it has. Nothing else would have given them more returns than what we have given but still it is a problem.”
On the funding for the institute, he adds, “Government is indifferent on the issue of funding. The Immediate policy makers are very much supportive but Funds come from Planning Commission and Finance Ministry and unless Planning Commission takes interest and recognizes the importance of this (NIF), it wouldn’t make a difference.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
On the issue of NIF & Honey Bee Network’s role in the development of rural innovations, he says, “The Honey Bee Network and the NIF, which identify and nurture grassroots innovation in the country, can play a very useful role by linking innovation, investment and enterprise through its large network of innovators.”
Unfortunately, there is very little angel funding and incubation support at the district level, and very little mentoring by the existing entrepreneurs or industry associations. But things can be changed by getting the relevant agencies more energised and setting them time-bound goals.
“We need retired bureaucrats and managers to offer their experienced services for free or on some basis of deferred payment to budding entrepreneurs.” He adds further.