IT is just an earthen pot inside another. But it can preserve raw vegetables for up to 72,bours in the sweltering heat of MaIda's villages. Cooked vegetable survives the heat for 12 hours. It. costs just Rs 30, this "rural refrigerator" as some call it, and the village potter can churn it out by the dozen. And As is just one of the innovative models developed by the Community Polytechnic Cell (cpc) of Malda Polytechnic College.
Travelling on the dusty road down Malda'i flyover, 15 minutes from the urban hub, one arrives at a modern confrete building in a rural setting of mango gardens, and minor, canals which now run dry. Working right at this conjocoon of townlife and the countryside, the teachers and researchers at the MaIda Polytechnic College (mpc) have made it their business to develop indigenous technology,to serve rural needs.
The cpc here has this year received the largest ever Central grant - Rs 6.14 lakh - in the eastern region from the ministry of human resource development. Naturally, the authorities in cpc feel they have been rewarded for their efforts' in, making rural upliftment a participatory effort, not technologically dependent on the town".
The cpc has developed a number of models which, the scientists feel, might go a long way to help improve the lifestyles of the villagers and augment farm producie., and the cpc -developed a village-level water de-arsenifying kit, with the help of Dipankar Chakraborty of the Centre for Environmental Sciences, Jadavpur Universitl, Calcutta.
The models were shown during the Science Exhibition in Malda College in February this year. The basis of most of the models is a simple design and easy manufacturing procedure. The earthen preservator, for instance, depends on a basic scientific principle. Water is filled in the cavity between the two earthen pots, and simple evaporation leads to the cooling inside.
Says S B Chaki, project director, cpc, "The temperature inside remains in the vicinity.of 15'C." Suggests Sangbad Bhattacharya, a designer who had taken a short training here, "Sometimes it rains, or the market is simply bad on a certain day, and farmers have to just sell off the stuff dirt cheap, because they have no storing facility back home. This could probably be solved now." Chaki, however, says the model needs to be improved upon before being taken to the villages.
Some of the projects, however, have churned debates. Like the smokeless chulha. "Although this is not new, we have designed a new chimney which can be easily made and fitted on the site, at a lesser cost, by the village potter. We have also suggested the use of an eart@en vdve system for regulating the :ow of air for increasing oifeducing the amount of heat inside the chulha.]_'__T@bough Chaki and his colleagues are certain that the innoV rtion is safe, the authorities in Kalyani University do not agree, and the debate is on.
"The usual design, with the asbestos chimney, can only come from the cities, and it is up to the city's development agencies to come and fix them ... that too, in limited numbers. We need this new design, which can be installed i 'n every house by ourselves," says Gobinda Talukdar, a silk thread manufacturer from Kaliachak.
Runaway success But it is the project on "improved type rural bullock cart" that has generatM the maximum amount of interest. The bullock carts presently operating in the villages have several conceptual and operational drawbacks. The carts in the Bengal-Bihar region previously used bamboo for the main body, and wooden wheels held by a steel band. However, bamboo went out of fashion and the carters first changed over to using the expensive sal and babool wood, and at present they have even started using iron sheets or tubes for the body. Even the wooden wheels of yore are fast ebing replaced with truck wheels and tyres. "Clearly, this is making the countryside dependent on the town and the industry for one of the most basic functions: mobility," says Chaki. Indeed, one of the fundamental ideological principles of the Malda cpc, the scientists here insist, is to make the village self-reliant. "Besides, the narrow-rimmed wooden wheels, which were not concentric, had 2 major operational faults. Firstly, they required much more energy to be pulled. And then, because the wooden wheels were narrow and bound by a steel band, they exerted concentrated pressure on the roads, whether in the villages or town, ruininZ them #completely in a short span of time."
The new model proposed by the cpc gets back to using bamboo for the body structure. But the major changes have been made in the wheel configuration. The new concentric wheel (radius: 60 cm) is of mild steel, broader than the Wooden ones. The steel is covered with a thicAsh rubber padding.
"This cart can be pulled with lesser energy, and hardly damages the road surface," Chaki explains.
But what about the steel? Does it not again make the village dependent on modern urban techn6logy. "Zico," says Chaki, "because the mould can be given to the rural blackmsiths and they are accustomed to make the mild steel anyway."
This project was completed in October 1994, when a seminar was held, and was attended, apart from the lecturers, by 33 craftsmen from Sultanpur, Sujapur, Bagbari, Ananda mohanpur, Atgama and other blocks and villages of the district. The resolution passed there clears both, the ideological focus of the scientists here, and the model's popularity. "The seminar feels the urgency for the improvement of the bullock cart, as proposed by the cpc ... Members proposed unanimously that the manufacturing process (of 2 prototypes) be conducted at a site where a cluster of conventional manufacturing agents (craftsmen are working, like Anandamohanpur and Sujapur/Kaliachak. During the manufacturing process, the participation and engagement of the conveniional manufacturers has to be ensured at an optimum level."
The cpc has placed a request with the state government's rural development authorities for Rs 8422 to make the 2 prototypes, which will be handed over to the operators, necessary feedback taken in a second seminar and the final bottle-necks removed after incorporatingth.e changes suggested by the field reports.
This is what makes the Malda cpc different from most others: its firm rural roots. This is clearly reflected in the way they utilise their funds. As Chaki says, "The first thing we spent money on was to travel in the villages and see what they want most. Unanimously, they first wanted the Job Assistants, the village-based agents for developmental projects, to be technically trained. And we held a short course for them, They were so enthused, that they wanted a longer, advanced course."
In fact, all their projects have been based on people's needs and demands. That is why the confident scientists here can dispute the contentions of the World Bank team, which is "wanting to tell us that Indian poly-technics are not doing high quality work". The ultimate test is mass popularity. Says Chaki, who is regarded as the eccentric genius and the moving force around here, "If I close my institute for a week today, the villagers will start a dharna (sit-in) in protest."