Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
AR Shivakumar has not paid his water bill in nearly 22 years.
Not because he has been evading it, but because his house is not even connected to his city’s water supply chain. The house’s ingenious rainwater-based water supply system and eco-friendly initiatives have meant that Mr Shivakumar’s family spends very little money on amenities like water, cooling, and electricity.
AR Shivakumar is a resident of Bengaluru. He is a scientist and Senior Fellow at the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST), Indian Institute of Science (IISc). The Logical Indian recently interviewed Mr Shivakumar to ask about how he has managed to build an ecosystem that thrives while using natural resources for most basic amenities and functions.
His house is named Sourabha. It is a plot 2400 sq ft in area. It is self-sufficient in many ways. Rainwater is stored for an entire year on the roof so that it can be used. As mentioned before, the family does not have the city’s water supply – the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) supply.
“Our house is environmentally responsible,” Mr Shivakumar says. “We use only the available natural resources to meet our daily needs. For example, our water requirements are met by efficient rainwater harvesting and excess water goes into groundwater recharge. Secondly, we don’t throw away garbage. The organic waste in our plot is managed with the utilisation of earthworms and leaf-eaters. Thirdly, we have many energy-saving services. In our house we very rarely use fans – or any cooling systems for that matter. The house is built in such a fashion that the heat that enters the building is low. The walls of our house, for instance, are like those a thermos flask. There are air gaps in the walls so that heat escapes. Furthermore, the roof is painted white so that the heat gets deflected.”
The house’s windows and ventilators are built in such a fashion that smoke and dust always passes through (and gets automatically filtered by) the green curtain that surrounds the house. “We have plenty of plants, trees, and creepers around the house so that air does not directly enter our house. There are also many water bodies near the house; these bodies add moisture to the air. So when the air finally enters the house, it is cool and pleasant. As such, most of the time we don’t need a fan or any cooling system.”
The first-floor roof tank of Mr Shivakumar’s house has a 5,000-litre capacity. On the ground floor, there is another 5,000-litre capacity tank. There is a 25,000-litre capacity tank on Sourabha’s entrance portico, and another 10,000-litre tank in the garage, car parking area. Each of these voluminous tanks has a pop-up filter, which was designed by Mr Shivakumar (he has a patent for it). “This filter is a rooftop rainwater filter. It separates dust, bird droppings, and leaves to give you clean water – water that you can store in tanks.”
Sourabha also has a solar water heater, a solar lighting system, and energy conservation systems. These provide lighting for the entire house. There is a skylight in the roof through which sunlight floods the house during the day. Strategically-placed mirrors reflect the sunlight into every nook and corner of the house. Thus, the house does not need any artificial light during the day.
“In addition to this,” Mr Shivakumar told The Logical Indian, “we also have water recycling systems to facilitate the reuse of water. Water from the washing machine is stored, for example, and pumped up to the roof for treatment. There, we store the used water and it is later used for toilet flushing. Another way we conserve water is by ensuring that the kitchen water goes into a system where it is collected and subsequently used to water the plants and trees around the house – the green curtain. This is a good practice because kitchen water is enriched water, with minerals and proteins, and will support the plants and trees for better growth.”
Bengaluru gets approximately 40 inches or 1000 mm of rainfall; this translates to around 2 lakh litres of water. A family of 4 to 5 can sustain on around 1.5 lakh litres of water; therefore, the potential of rainwater harvesting is enormous.
Sourabha uses less water, less energy, and doesn’t inflict any damage on the environment. “The trees, the bushes, and the plants around us are home to many insects, butterflies, birds and so on. We have created a microenvironment, and this has helped make our house more pleasant and not depend on conventional systems of water supply or electricity supply from outside. Nature provides for most of our needs.”
All of these features are highly economical. They can easily be employed in a low-cost house built primarily and simply of cement and bricks. Sourabha is not plastered or painted extravagantly. The eco-friendly measures implemented by Mr Shivakumar have greatly decreased the maintenance costs. Plastering, painting, water, electricity – all of these have been made cheaper, more efficient, and whole lot more environment-friendly.
“We moved into this house in 1995. Until now we have not paid the water bill because we don’t have a bill to pay. We sustain on rainwater. This system has sustained for 22 years. We have faced drought years, excess rainfall, uneven rainfall – we have faced them all and we have managed.”
Mr Shivakumar opines that this system is economical and should be adopted across the country. “This is not a new concept. Basically, we have looked into various aspects of earlier examples and combined them and remodelled them slightly. Sourabha was carefully and meticulously planned. Architects designed the interventions in the building design. Construction planner put it into action. The construction involved much teamwork. After all, ideas become practical only through engineering and architecture. These kinds of eco-friendly systems are being adopted around the world. Thousands of homes are already following this. It should be encouraged.”
Mr Shivakumar has been trying to popularise such eco-friendly technology for the past two decades or so through various media. He is known for his contribution to popularising clean energy and rainwater harvesting around the country. He served in the field of Decentralised, Sustainable Energy and Water supply utilities for rural villages at the International Energy Initiative – Asia and was associated with the Indo-Norwegian Environment Programme as Programme Manager.
He also played a key role in the implementation of over a dozen environment-related major projects in Karnataka over the years. He has a National Award to his credit, awarded by the Government of India in 2001 for one of his innovations. He was awarded “Citizen Extraordinary” by Rotary International in 2007. The First Innovation award Ammulya 2012 for two of his patents was awarded by Government of Karnataka in addition to other state awards and recognitions.
The Logical Indian asked Mr Shivakumar if he thinks green energy is the future. “Going with nature is the future,” he replied. “Basically, you respect nature, you respect water, you respect all the resources that are available. Don’t abuse them. In my house, we have made nature work with us. Take the advantages in nature to see to it that your needs for the day are met. Don’t abuse nature – all you need is already present in and provided by nature. Sourabha’s model can be replicated on a large scale. These are doable and simple things that you can practice. Go with nature, and you’ll have all the answers for all your needs.”
If readers want to contact Mr Shivakumar, they can drop him an email at [email protected].
For more information on Sourabha’s genius, readers can go to Mr Shivakumar’s YouTube channel.
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