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Can we live off the land? Why we need to shift focus from biofuels to solar energy

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BY ANIL K. RAJVANSHI

Our present consumptive life style is totally unsustainable. For example an average American consumes 350 Gigajules/year-the highest per capita energy in the world. If every person on this earth has the same wasteful life style as an American then we will require 4 earths to sustain it.

Contrast to this with 18 GJ/yr used by an average Indian which is about 5% that of an American. A middle path between U.S. and Indian energy consumption has to be found so that we have sustainable lifestyle. One can live very decently in about 50-70 GJ per person/yr energy consumption. This amount of energy fueled the life style of Europeans in 1970s which was comfortable and with modern high technologies is achievable. If every citizen of this planet consumes this much energy then earth can support all its inhabitants.  Thus for a sustainable India and possibly the world we need to change our life style and at the same time look for alternative sources of energy to sustain it.

Most of the R&D for getting a substitute for oil is based on getting it from biomass which is land based. Thus bio fuels are being produced from crops like corn, sweet sorghum, sugarcane, jatropha etc. Recently research is more focused on using biomass residues via cellulose conversion to ethanol. Since the people who own the cars have money, farming in some parts of the world is being driven to produce fuel rather than food.  This is creating serious food shortages and consequent price rise in commodities. Thus use of land to produce bio fuels rather than food has dangerous consequences for the world.

All the life on this planet earth is solar energy based. It produces biomass for our food; produces oil from million years of stored biomass; produces wind and is also responsible for our rain and hence all our water supply. As we advance technologically we will follow this existing evolutionary strategy of life.  Thus we will live off sustainably from our energy income (land based solar energy) rather than the capital (fossil fuels or stored solar energy). Use of solar energy together with agricultural residues therefore appears to be the best solution to live sustainably off the land.

All the solar based energies like direct solar or biomass are land or area based. Thus it is useful to have a perspective on their utilization and conversion efficiencies. Also the modern industrial society is electricity based, hence we like to convert all forms of primary energy (like oil, coal, nuclear, solar etc.) into electricity.

Direct conversion of solar energy into electricity either through photovoltaic (PV) cells or through thermal power systems is done at an overall conversion efficiency of 10 to 15% respectively. On the other hand conversion of solar energy to electricity through biomass (either through direct combustion in power plants or through alcohol or biodiesel based engine route) is extremely inefficient with efficiencies ranging from 0.05 to 0.1%.  This low efficiency results because the photosynthetic efficiency of converting solar energy into biomass is < 1%. Thus direct conversion of solar into electricity is about 100 to 300 times more efficient than converting biomass into electricity! Consequently the area reduction for energy production by using direct solar energy will be 100-300 times. This is a huge area which can become free for food and chemicals production from biomass – something that is necessary for long term sustainability of mankind.

It is also interesting to note that solar thermal electricity generation can produce all the electricity (~20,000 MW) that the controversial nuclear deal will help produce from an area of 640 km2or that of just one taluka.  Besides the plants can be set up in couple of years time as opposed to about 10 years or so that a nuclear plant takes to be setup. Also the energy (solar) falls on our country and there is also no problem of disposal of nuclear waste.

Nevertheless conversion of solar energy directly into electricity is presently not cheap since the capital cost is high and also the technology (for solar thermal) is still maturing. Presently there are two methods of producing electricity from solar thermal. In one system parabolic mirrors concentrate solar energy on to a tube which carries high temperature oil. This heats the oil to around 4000C which in turn produces steam to drive a turbine for electricity generation. In the other system called “Power Tower” tracking mirrors concentrate solar energy on to a tower where it heats the salt to around 10000C which in turn produces steam for turbines. Storage of high temperature oil and salt is still not perfected.

In fact the biggest problem in solar systems is storage of energy when sun is not shinning either during night or in the rainy season. This problem is not there in biomass since the energy is stored in biomass itself. Thus tremendous R&D is needed in battery storage for PV systems and thermal storage for solar thermal conversion systems. Consequently the funding for solar energy thermal systems should match that for biofuels.

In India we are hardly doing anything in the use of solar energy for electricity production via thermal route. Whereas close to 1000 MW is already being generated in U.S. and Europe via this method and the cost of electricity generation is coming down and is quite close to that from coal based power plants.

Similarly agricultural residues available in India can presently produce close to 80,000 MW of electricity or nearly 50% of total installed capacity in the country.  Nevertheless for the improvement of land fertility it is necessary that most of these residues should be used as fertilizer.  Thus emphasis should be put more on solar thermal electricity.

However all these energy development strategies will become untenable if we follow the U.S. life style and do not put a cap on our greed for materials, resources and energy.  Present economic models are based on increased consumption and encourage greed.  Ever increasing choices available to an average person fuel the greed impulse since the fear of missing out is very high.  Spirituality can help in keeping our greed for materials and resources in check since it helps us become internally secure and hence less greedy.

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Spirituality is the state of mind that makes us look deeply into ourselves or the spirit and gives a certain perspective in life.  As a person progresses on the path of spirituality his or her priorities in life change.  The focus of life shifts more towards getting personal happiness through mental peace and is less on material needs and desires and more towards sustainability. Recent examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Einstein have shown that with very few needs and living very simply they were able to produce the highest quality of thought.

The most important mantra in India is the Gayatri Mantra.  It invokes the Sun God and requests him to give us wisdom and enlightenment so that we can live better lives.  Use of solar energy to produce electricity via high technology and reducing our greed through spirituality is the best way to live according to its ideal.  Indeed a combination of high technology together with spiritual growth will be a new paradigm of sustainable development.

 (The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at  anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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Veerappan: India’s most wanted

Veerappan was hunted by the police for over four decades, making it the longest man-hunt in India

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Veerappan was a smuggler, poacher, murderer and extortionist who was killed in Operation Cocoon
Veerappan in his heyday, He was killed via Operation Cocoon
  • Veerappan was a smuggler of ivory and sandalwood in the southern states of India.
  • He killed government officials and civilians alike when they tried to stop his illegal activities.
  • He died in October 2004 during ‘Operation Cocoon’, which was carried out by a Special Task Force.

Poaching, smuggling, extortion, smuggling, brigandry, murder — these are some of the few charges against Koose Munisamy Veerappan Gounder, popularly known as Veerappan, for whom was constituted India’s largest manhunt, on which the government spent around 1.5 million Rupees. From his childhood, narratives about the elusive dacoit were laced with fiction, as he became an object of myth when he was only ten years old, and had infamously shot his first tusker elephant for ivory. His notoriety became a national concern when the government banned ivory trade in India, and he began felling trees for precious sandalwood, thus beginning a period marred by Veerappan killing government officials and locals alike when they became an obstacle.

Veerappan unleashed a reign of terror on the southern states of India from the early 1980s till his death in 2004; during which Veerappan killing police officers and civilians alike caused a nationwide uproar. In 1990, the notorious smuggler had beheaded a forest officer K. Srinivas, which wasn’t recovered until three years later. In 2000, he had kidnapped the Kannada actor K. Rajkumar, whose release was negotiated through Nakkeeran editor Gopal, to whom the infamous poacher admitted to murdering as many as 120 people. Matters came to a head when   abducted the former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa in 2002, and killed him when his demands were not met.

Operation Cocoon:

Veerappan leading his gang in moily forest,
Veerappan leading his gang in Moily forest. Wikimedia

A Special Task Force or STF was constituted for the capture of Veerappan in 1991, which, headed by K. Vijay Kumar, launched Operation Cocoon in 2004, which finally resulted in Veerappan’s death. Kumar, aided by his previous experience with Veerappan, based Operation Cocoon on human intelligence and interaction, during which multiple STF personnel blended in with the locals in areas frequented by Veerappan. The initial stages of Operation Cocoon consisted of gaining the trust of Veerappan’s associates, till they started divulging details about his failing health. In the years before his death, the elusive outlaw seemed to have lost much of his vigour and vitality, as he suffered from diabetes, and a cataract had almost blinded him in one eye.
On 18th October, 2004, the police lured Veerappan out of familiar terrains in an ambulance, and apprehended him at a roadblock, where he was killed in the crossfire between his team and the STF, via three bullets. The photographs after Veerappan’s demise show him in a pathetic light, bereft of his signature handlebar moustache, and the agility which had facilitated his escape for over four decades.

There have been a lot of controversies regarding his death, as many media houses and activists have claimed that Operation Cocoon has derived Veerappan of a fair trial by law. Some have even claimed that he was tortured to death in police custody. The facts regarding the elusive sandalwood smuggler remain inconclusive even after a decade of his death, due to the lack of concrete evidence.

 

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Bhai Boolchand-the Indian who launched trade with Ghana

The first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana's colonial name) in 1890 , Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana

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Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana.
Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana. pixelbay
  • Bhai Boolchand, the anonymous Indian, is credited with starting trade between Ghana and India
  • The year was 1890.

Not much is known about him, but it has now emerged that trade relations between Ghana and Indiawere started by Bhai Boolchand, the first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast — Ghana’s colonial name — in 1890. That’s some 67 years before the British colonial government granted the country independence, research by the Indian Association of Ghana has found.

“As far as our records show, Bhai Boolchand (of the Bhaiband Sindhworki trading community), landed on the shores of the Gold Coast in western Africa in 1890. Nearly twenty years later, in 1919, the first Sindhi company was established by two brothers — Tarachand Jasoomal Daswani and Metharam Jasoomal Daswani,” the Indian Association said.

The duo opened a store — Metharam Jassomal Brothers — in the then capital city of Cape Coast in 1919.

“Their business flourished and branches were opened in Accra and Kumasi. A few years later, the two brothers separated and whilst Bhai Metharam Jasoomal continued the business as Metharam Brothers, Tarachand Jasoomal operated his business as Bombay Bazaar. These were the first two Indian companies that were established in the Gold Coast,” the Association said.

Boolchand’s arrival, therefore, pre-dates the historical links between the two countries that were always thought to have started between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkruman, and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Boolchand can thus be described as the one who paved the way for the arrival of other members of the Sindhi community, initially as traders and shopkeepers.

The Indian Association said more of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few venturing into manufacturing industries such as garments, plastics, textiles, insecticides, electronics, pharmaceuticals and optical goods.

The Association said two more Indian firms were established under the names of Lilaram Thanwardas and Mahtani Brothers in the 1920s. This trend continued in the 1930s and 1940s with the creation of several more Indian companies like T. Chandirams, Punjabi Brothers, Wassiamal Brothers, Hariram Brothers, K. Chellaram & Sons, G. Motiram, D.P. Motwani, G. Dayaram, V. Lokumal, and Glamour Stores.

Glamour Stores, which was stared by Ramchand Khubchandani who arrived in Ghana in 1929, has grown — after changing its name to Melcom Group — to become the largest retailing business in the country. The Melcom Group, headed by Ramchand’s son Bhagwan Khubchandani, is now in its 60th year and about 40 stores all over the country.

Ramchand and his brother later went into garment manufacturing in 1955 and once employed over 1,200 Ghanaians. They later opened the first Indian restaurant, Maharaja, in Ghana. Bhagwan followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1989 established the Melcom Group with his sons-in-law, Mahesh Melwani and Ramesh Sadhwani.

Another Indian-owned company that has survived through the years is the Mohanani Group, which is currently in its 51st year. At the first-ever Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, the Ministry of Trade and Industries recognised the work of one of the thriving Indian-owned B5 Plus Steel Company and awarded it the Best Expatriate Company in the metal and steel category.

As these companies brought in new expatriate staff, some left their employers to venture out on their own — resulting in more companies opening up.

“After 1947, the Gold Coast attracted the attention of some Indian multinational companies, and big names like Chanrai, Bhojsons, K.A.J. Chotirmal, Dalamals and A.D. Gulab opened branches in Ghana,” the Association said.

“The employment of Ghanaians by these founding companies also helped to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country. This amply demonstrates the level of commitment India has in the developmental agenda of Ghana,” it said.

Indians are not only investing in the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the country; they are also investing in the financial sector. Bank of Baroda, one of India’s biggest and most reputable banks, recently established a branch in Ghana and hopefully it will expand its operations in other parts of the country very soon. (IANS)

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.