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This rice husk-based power unit is one of the 80-plus plants across Bihar using rice husk and other biomass waste to supply electricity to nearly 200,000 peoplein rural Bihar. Promoted by Husk Power, the company's founder and US-trained engineer Gyanesh Pandey was presented the 2011 Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy.

Should poor, rural children and their families be made to wait for a nuclear power plant or a 1,000 MW thermal plant to light a small bulb in their hut?

An ordinary electric bulb is the simplest manifestation of the wondrous capabilities of electricity known to mankind. It is nearly 150 years since the bulb was invented and yet, we have at least 400 million people in the country without electricity, 65 years after independence.  Even where rural villages and towns have been electrified, there's acute load-shedding in many states, running up to six hours and more on a daily basis because of high demand and poor supply.

After what happened at Fukushima, there's fierce opposition in the country to nuclear power generation. State governments are also finding it difficult to proceed with plans to set up mega power plants because of land acquisition issues and impact on the environment.

Clearly, there cannot be economic growth and social well-being without power and achieving self-sufficiency in power is one of the major challenges that the country needs to address on priority.

One innovative solution at the micro-level is that of power generation from biomass and agricultural residue, which is the subject of our cover story for February. Dr. Anil K. Rajvanshi, an IIT Kanpur alumni and director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, has demonstrated how agricultural residue and multipurpose crops such as sweet sorghum can be cultivated to produce ethanol across rural areas.

In one of India's poorest states, Bihar, agri-residue such as rice husk has been used successfully to generate electricity. This initiative by Husk Power Systems received the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in 2011 after it had established 65 power plants based on rice husk, serving 25,000 poor households.

There is a fair amount of innovation taking place in India and there's even a bestseller (Jugaad Innovation, featured in our Books section) taking inspiration from the spirit of jugaad that pervades across India. Why then is the Indian government not giving a policy push to innovations that can make a difference, as for example, in the realm of rural electrification?

Innovations of the highest order are of the disruptive kind- so very disruptive that entire categories of products and industries based on them are rendered extinct. Take the case of pagers or that of the room-sized first generation computers which became useless after the advent of transistors and microchip-based desktops. Our Mega Trends section this month explores the nature and characteristics of disruptive innovations.

Managing resources is especially important for voluntary agencies that are engaged in a variety of social work. There are lessons to learn from the Bangalore-based Ashwini Charitable Trust which has successfully capped its administrative costs to not more than 10% of its budget. Their inspiring story is featured in our Making a Difference section this month.

We also bring to you a powerful essay on the value of simplicity in our lives. Penned by the great American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi was among those deeply influenced by his writings. Thoreau's thoughts on simplicity- articulated a century and half ago- are particularly relevant for our times when we are gripped by the intensely-driven consumerist culture. We are producing, consuming and hoarding thousands of products that we don't need and promoting a lifestyle that is unsustainable for this planet. In sharp contrast is a life of simplicity that helps de-clutter the mind and focus on what is most essential in life.

As always, we welcome your comments, suggestions and submissions in the form of viewpoint or article to be featured in our pages.

Happy reading!

Abhay Vaidya


About Us: Change for Better is a journal promoting constructive thought and action. It is published by Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited (MKCL). Now in its 12th year, MKCL is the largest provider of basic computer education in India with a chain of over 5,000 franchises.

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