Mohammad Mehtar Hussain and his younger brother Mushtaq Ahmad are farmers in the Darrang district of AssamThese entrepreneurial brothers own two acres of land, and produce just enough paddy to feed their families. As cultivating paddy is a water-intensive task, drawing out large amounts of groundwater was difficult due to frequent power cuts. Moreover, the alternative of pumping out water using a diesel set was too expensive and hand-pumping required a lot of effort. This set the brothers thinking, and in 2003 they came up with a solution that was a much cheaper and effective alternative. They invented a simple windmill using bamboo and a tin sheet, and attached it to a hand-pump.
The genesis of their invention is interesting, given the fact that the brothers are educated only up to higher secondary level and have no technical background. While looking around for an answer to their problem, their eyes fell on the movement of a sewing machine.
They observed how the circular motion of the wheel resulted in the up-and-down movement of the needle. This formed a rough impression of how their solution would work. However, the major problem of how they would generate enough energy to make it function still remained.
The solution to this came when one day they were watching kites, and a sudden gust of wind made them soar higher. They concluded that a large wheel, moving by the power of wind, could be attached to the handle of a hand-pump to pump out water continuously. They made their first prototype using bamboo, old tyres, iron, and so on. How the innovation took shape -
The basic model of the windmill consisted of a tower-like structure, made of two parallel bamboo posts. These were connected using an iron shaft, which in turn mounted the blades of the windmill. The wind makes the blades move, thus rotating the shaft. Being connected to the handle of the hand-pump, the rotating motion of the shaft results in the pumping out of water. However, this static model of the windmill has several advantages and disadvantages.
Cost: Rs 6,000 (Static Model) / Rs 40,000 (Improvised Model)
Made of inexpensive, locally available materials, such as bamboo and aluminum sheets, made it much cheaper than traditional windmills. Moreover, the entire unit could be assembled and dismantled in an hour, making it portable. No foundation was required for installation as the bamboo poles could be erected by digging holes in the ground. On the flip side, as the blades were static, they rotate only when facing the direction of the wind. Second, being light in weight, it did not withstand high-velocity wind. Third, there was no brake system in this design—it has to be stopped by inserting a wooden pole between the blades. Fourth, compared to traditional windmills made from sturdy materials, bamboo has a shorter life. This limited its use in all seasons, especially during the rains and the winter.
As the popularity of the windmill slowly spread, another innovator, Karunakanth Nath, whose innovation was already being supported by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) North East, introduced it to the organization. The NIF awarded it a cash prize and a certificate from former President Abdul Kalam. Says Mushtaq “That was the proudest moment of my life.”
The National innovation Foundation supported the innovation through its offshoot Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network (GIAN) by providing funds. It started working on the defects of the windmill. Several were installed in IIT-Guwahati for technical analysis. At around the same time, GIAN West installed a prototype of the windmill in Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat for salt farming on an experimental basis. India, with an average annual salt production of 157 lakh tonnes, is the third largest salt producer in the world. However, according to GIAN’s estimates, for producing 1,000 tonnes of salt, a salt farmer has to spend approximately Rs 1 lakh, of which nearly Rs 60,000 is spent on fuel for diesel sets for pumping out saline water. According to Mushtaq, “The response that we received was very positive. Our windmill proved to be cheaper as well as effective.” The two brothers have definitely added their names in the Indian rural innovation chapter.
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