Khetri Musings

It was in the summer of 1992; I was at Khetri Nagar for an internship at Khetri Copper Complex (KCC), Rajasthan. These are old underground and open cast mines in the Aravalli mountain range, one of the old mountains of India.

Khetri Nagar is a town in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan in India. It is part of the Shekhawati region. Khetri is two towns, "Khetri Town" founded by Raja Khet Singhji Nirwan and "Khetri Nagar" which is about 10 km away from Khetri. Khetri Nagar, well known for its Copper Project, was built by and is under the control of Hindustan Copper Limited, a public sector undertaking under the Government of India. Khetri Nagar is also very well known by the name of 'Copper.'

I came to this training with my classmates Dr. Sundar K. who loves philosophy and Dr. Nihar Sahoo who was jovial. For the first time, I got a chance to live in the Rajasthan during the peak of summer. It was very hot and the temperatures were often reaching greater than forty-five degrees centigrade. It was very exhausting; the heat is intense that the sweat dried into salt immediately. The clothes never became wet due to sweating.  Coming from Hyderabad, I used to wonder, because when we sweat our clothes become wet. I used to feel very thirsty and drink lots of water. In the evenings we used to go out and drink lots of sugarcane juice with ice in it. There was a Kerala hotel where we used to go for morning breakfast. It was famous for Dosas and Idlis. The sambar was excellent.

For accommodation, we were given a dormitory in the Khetri Mining colony. It was a large hall, with few beds. We were sharing with few students from Kothagudem Mining school, Andhra Pradesh and one intern from Banaras Hindu University, Uttar Pradesh.

The water stored in the steel drums at the bathroom was too hot. Even when we took a bath within a minute, we used to be dry and never felt we took a shower.

All the windows were welded with sheets of iron. We could not understand how could they close all the windows when we need proper ventilation. Within few days of our arrival into the dormitory the interns from Kothagudem by hand broke opened all the windows. The management of the dormitory having known the damage caused summoned all of us. The reason was before we arrived during the winter it was so cold so they have closed all the windows. One of the interns said we should have windows which could be closed in the winter and opened in the summer rather having the windows permanently closed. Everyone laughed at this simple reply, and they did not give any punishment for this act of breaking the windows.

As part of field work of mapping, myself and my two classmates used to climb the hogback or sharp crests of the peaks of Aravalli mountain range. And also we used to go down deep into the mines, these mines were inclined. In the mines, it was sultry with lots of moisture. This was my first experience of getting into the mines. I can never forget the earth smell of an underground mine. We learned a lot about, sampling, mining methods, mapping the ores, etc.

Apart from the regular field visits and visits to the underground mines, I made it a point that during the evenings I would climb some of the hills around the place we lived. As it was summer the sunlight used to last till 7:30 p.m. One day I saw a hill nearby which was close to the village Singhana. It appeared round and very attractive. It was of quartzite rocks, due to diurnal variation of temperature and other natural forces such as the wind, rain, etc., broke into pieces. The rocks were not firm, and they were crumbling, especially more than half way up the hill.

One day, I went walking there and managed to climb the steep hill, although the rocks were crumbling under my weight. I have reached the peak, could see the beautiful sunset, along with a local passenger train in the distance and desert sands. I was feeling thirsty, and now I need to climb down before it is dark. As I was getting down - due to loose quartzite rocks - with my body weight acting downwards - I was just sliding downwards. It was becoming darker and harder for me to climb down smoothly. Now, I cannot spend much time to find a safer path to climb down. I have finally decided to slide down over the loose rocks. After some time I was at the foot of the hill, with few bruises. I could see the lights of the Singhana village. It was around 8:30 pm when I reached the dormitory. Climbing hills always inspired me although it was dangerous sometimes.

Center for excellence on farming practices and technologies

The ideas on the development of a center of excellence on farming practices and technologies.

  • A center for networking farmers and all stakeholders interested in farming.

  • To create large scale awareness, sensitisation, training, hands-on experience for younger generations,

  • A sustainable farm should generate income to sustain the system.

  • All types of farming practices demonstration - multi-cropping, rainfed agriculture, micro irrigation, bio-intensive cultivation, poly houses, shade nets, silvipasture, agroforestry, vertical gardens, kitchen gardens, mixed agriculture with animals and poultry, bee keeping, permaculture, natural farming, etc.

  • Automatic weather station and mini meteorological station.

  • Use of drones for management of the fields

  • Use of balloon kites for management of the fields and monitoring

  • Monitoring of the water use - meters and sensors

  • Sensors for soil moisture monitoring and irrigation management.

  • Use of computers and applications for management of the farm.

  • Sacred grove declaration for soil microbes, mother tree, conservation of local biodiversity, habitat for birds, small animals and reptiles which also protect the farm, a place for geo spirit meets and meditation.

INNOVATION KEY TO PROTECT LAKES - Metro India, New Paper published on 28th January 2015

Metro News / Hyderabad : Eminent environmental scientist N Sai s on Tuesday said that in addition to desilting and repairing tanks for irrigation purposes, there is a need for employing innovative methods to save other water bodies, especially lakes, in the state from being destroyed due to pollutants. Speaking to Metro India after presenting his views on conservation of water bodies at a national seminar that concluded here on Sunday, he proposed to the State government to consider 'Floatation' model for saving urban lakes from nitrogen pollution and eutrophication.

-Release of organic matter into lakes and ponds is a very common problem in cities. This leads to accumulation of huge amounts of nitrates in the water which in turn causes to growth of algae. Eventually, the water bodies get eutrophicated and its ecosystem dies
-“When people develop a personal association with lakes, then nobody needs to tell them not to spoil. So, if people get to swim, fish, boat and drink the water of a lake, they would not litter around it,“
he said


Innovation

A model developed by Reddy himself, 'Floatation' aims to neutralize the nutrient imbalance in water bodies by allowing plants to absorb excessive nutrients in water through capillary action while floating on it. “Release of organic matter into lakes and ponds is a very common problem in cities. This leads to accumulation of huge amounts of nitrates in the water which in turn causes to growth of algae. Eventually, the water bodies gets eutrophicated and its ecosystem dies,” he explains.

The environmentalist says that in addition to absorbing pollutants from water bodies, the floatation plants will add to the aesthetics of urban lakes thereby attracting more tourists. “When people develop a personal association with lakes, then nobody needs to tell them not to spoil it. So, if people get to swim, fish, boat and drink the waater of a lake, they would not litter around it,” says Reddy, who was featured by CNN in 2013 for discovering the use of biomass charcoal in fertilizing the soil.

Sai Bhaskar Reddy adds that the easiest way to know whether a water body has been polluted or not is to check if there are any fish living in the water. “It was a part of our traditional knowledge that whenever you are faced with the doubt of whether to drink the water from a lake or not, decide by checking if there are fish living in it. Also, you will have birds around a fresh water lake as they come to catch the fish. So, the signs of a healthy lake are pretty simple,” he observes.
Reddy opines that the State government's plan to empty the Hussain Sagar Lake for cleaning it up is technically sound.

“The water in Hussain Sagar is highly contaminated. So, it is better to dry it up completely, desilt and fill it with fresh water from excess waters in Krishna or Godavari river that gets help up as dead storage in our projects,” he added. Reddy was instrumental in obtaining injunctions against environment polluters in the State through Public Interest Litigations (PIL) in Supreme Court.
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ACCESS TO FIRE

ACCESS TO FIRE
Dr. N. Sai Bhaskar Reddy, GEOSPIRIT, saibhaskarnakka@gmail.com

Fire one of the sources of energy is the manifestation of universe. Human beings are the only species on earth that embraced fire as a source of survival, strength and thriving. Almost all other life on earth has fear of fire. uncontrolled flame.jpg
Fire from biomass is a source for cooking food since prehistoric times. Humans are the only species that cook their food. Homo erectus emerged about two million years ago as a result of this unique trait. Cooking had profound evolutionary effect because it increased food efficiency which allowed human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting. H. erectus developed via a smaller, more efficient digestive tract which freed up energy to enable larger brain growth. Cooked food, by contrast, is mostly digested by the time it enters the colon; for the same amount of calories ingested, the body gets roughly 30 percent more energy from cooked oat, wheat or potato starch as compared to raw, and as much as 78 percent from the protein in an egg. Cooking allowed hominids to expand their diets. Many tubers are poisonous unless cooked, so cooking opened up new food sources.
In essence, cooking—including not only heat but also mechanical processes such as chopping and grinding—outsources some of the body’s work of digestion so that more energy is extracted from food and less expended in processing it. Cooking breaks down collagen, the connective tissue in meat, and softens the cell walls of plants to release their stores of starch and fat.
Cooking food is a culture and tradition developed through the use of biomass stoves over centuries. Modern means of cooking do not achieve the same taste, flavour and nutrient value as cooking on biomass stoves. Some of the common ways of high temperature cooking used today are: LPG stoves, microwave ovens, electric stoves, induction stoves, etc. High pressure and temperature cooking is done by using pressure cookers. In real-life conditions, high-power cooking is not preferable as the taste and the value of the food cooked is not as good compared to normal cooking. During high power cooking, metal pots made of aluminum and steel transfer excessive heat to the food, and not uniformly so.  The food cooked in earthen pots is more tasty and nutritious, due to the slow and low transfer of heat to the food that they facilitate. However, this is not the preferred mode of cooking now-a-days.  New cooking methods have to adapt to modern sources of fire / heat.
Since it is mostly women who engage in cooking, they have to bear a brunt of the conditions in the kitchen. Cooking three-course meals (as is typically done in India, with rotis, rice, curry, pulses, etc.) is not an easy job at all.  It becomes even more difficult—at times hazardous- if they don’t have access to a good stove.
Human beings have stepped on the moon, and explored the solar system and planets many light years away. However, we still have not been able to provide efficient cooking systems for millions of people living on this Earth.
In parts of India, the stove is believed to embody Goddess Laxmi – the Goddess of money and prosperity. This kind of respect means that traditional stoves - made up of clay, dung and bricks - are regularly maintained. Cleaning around the stove and maintaining it is of utmost importance before a festival.  In groups, women go to termite mounds and bring back the mud from them.  It is mixed with cow dung and ash to form a paste that is used for plastering stoves.
Further, women decorate their stoves with ‘Rangolis,’ or design patterns made by applying colour or-powders over the mud-dung-ash plaster. This practice illustrates the value accorded to the stove by traditional customs and lifestyles.  People believe that the state of the stove reflects whether a household is happy / prosperous, or not.  For example, when a cat or dog is found sleeping in a stove, it must belong to a poor household, for it means that this family has not cooked any food for some time. 
Although cooking food is a crucial part of human life, the principles of fire, cooking, etc., are rarely taught as part of formal education. It is common for parents to keep young children away from fire, warning them of its dangers. Schools should make sure that the children have some basic training in operating stoves, as well as some knowledge of efficient stoves. Schools should make sure that the children have some basic training in operating stoves, as well as some knowledge of efficient stoves.
Metal pots that transfer a large proportion of the heat received to their contents, do not do so uniformly. When stoves run at high power, the food is not cooked well. The flavour, taste and aroma of the food also depends on the temperature at which it is cooked. The temperature range 300-600 degrees centigrade is ideal.  Cooking is also a means for releasing the nutrients of the food, in order to maximize its value to the consumer. At higher temperatures, the aromatic ingredients of the food are also lost as volatiles. 
Many people say that biomass cook stoves should be banned altogether. However, all the elements of sanctity and sanitation can be found in them:  Fire, Smoke, Charcoal and Ash. Cooking on biomass stoves is also a way of engaging with and respecting the elements of nature. Fire is highly respected even by the most primitive of communities. Fire is considered auspicious by many spiritual beliefs-systems / religions / societies. Some of them even worship it as a deity. In many religions, praying rooms are attached with kitchens. Considering smoke to be harmful does not fit with the culture of using incense sticks for worship, common to many religions.
The stove also signifies the cultural connection of the community with fire. As mentioned above, fire is widely regarded as a deity and biomass stoves adorn kitchens also used as prayer rooms. It is the medium through which offerings are made to the Gods as a plea for common good such as rains, good harvest, peace and harmony. In India, this is evident in ceremonies like Yagnas, Homas and Agnihotras (or Holy Altar). Cooking on biomass stoves, thus, represents this cultural respect for fire.
In rural areas, where poor people use fuel wood to cook, there is always some smoke. Smoke from biomass stoves protects them from a variety of pests. In many countries, termites are a major cause of economic losses. In many rural communities, seeds collected for sowing in the next season are commonly stored in the kitchen. Smoke protects thatched huts from pests such as termites and wood-borers. It is very common in such places for people to use smoke as a means to repel mosquitoes and prevent diseases like malaria. On the other hand, cockroaches and insects are common in kitchens using Liquefied Petroleum Gas.
Charcoal and ash are two other important by-products of the biomass stove. Many poor communities use charcoal for cleaning teeth, and the ash for cleaning utensils. Ash from holy altars is used as a vermillion to apply on the forehead and other body parts. At times in small quantities, it is also recommended as medicine by faith healers. In agriculture, the charcoal is used as biochar for improving soil-health and fertility. Ash is an important additive for acidic soils and an important source of potash and phosphate.
As per the understanding on the importance and need for fire as a source of cooking, community kitchens and open source fire places are required to facilitate the poor and for conservation of energy.
References
Understanding Stoves http://goodstove.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catching_Fire:_How_Cooking_Made_Us_Human
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-fire-makes-us-human-72989884/?no-ist
http://shkrobius.livejournal.com/64991.html
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