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News & Press: Oct 2011

Aakash Ganga wins DST grant

Saturday, October 29, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rama Mishra ( & Sukanya V
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Sustainable Innovations (, USA, and Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani were awarded a grant of Rs. 60, 00, 000 by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, to demonstrate Aakash Ganga’s social enterprise model along with its holistic sustainability and innovations. AG is a domestic rainwater harvesting system that alleviates the perennial scarcity of drinking water in the rural villages. Aakash Ganga’s social enterprise model couples "social business” of Noble Laureate Muhammad Yunus and cultural sustainability of Gandhi. It evolved over several years through incubation and pilot in six villages which are in close proximity to BITS Pilani campus.

Aakash Ganga (AG) channels rooftop rainwater from houses, through gutters and pipes, to a network of multi-tier underground reservoirs. Part of the harvested rooftop rainwater is stored in the House Tank or Griha Tanka, reservoir attached to a house, for the exclusive use of the home owner. The rest flows to the community tank or gram tanka. People who live under thatched roofs or who cannot afford to have their own reservoirs use water from the shared reservoir. Typically, the griha tanka (household tank) stores enough water to meet the drinking water needs of the family for a year. The large shared reservoir is of 400,000 litres or more in capacity. The actual size depends on several factors including village population, average roof area, and average annual rainfall.

Prof. BP Agarwal & Mrs LemelsonAakash Ganga has expanded the concept of sustainability beyond economic sustainability to encompass cultural, societal, operational, institutional, technological, ecological, and replication sustainability. This holistic concept of sustainability has driven a bundle of innovations. AG harvests innovations in engineering, social capital, and entrepreneurship to build self-sustainable social enterprise. These enterprises are sustainable in capacity (capturing enough rainwater for 12-month supply), technology (using satellite imagery to design the scheme; and implementing IT to monitor water quality and utilization), economics (adapting utility industry model to minimize capital cost per litre of harvested rainwater), social enterprise (local social entrepreneurs deploy and maintain the AG); social capital (monetizing familial bonds, customs, and social norms); and social harmony (quietly bringing segregated communities together, Gandhian style).

So far, AG has already won the World Bank’s Development Marketplace award of $200,000 for its social innovation and sustainability. Dr. Agrawal has won the $100,000 Lemelson – MIT award, received the Energy Globe World Award, was named the Purpose Prize Fellow for AG’s social innovations and invited by World Economic Forum to share the social enterprise model. He serves on the Advisory Board of Smithsonian Institute’s Lemelson Center. The Ministry of Rural Development and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gave a planning grant to scale up AG in the Nagaur district. AG's technology partners in this effort are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, and Trinity College, Ireland.

Under the DST grant, BITS has set up an innovation hub led by Prof. Rajiv Gupta, Dean of Engineering Services Division, who has been coordinating the project since its inception. He is a Ph.D (in the year 1995) in "Fluid structure interaction” from BITS Pilani. He has to his credit over 100 published papers & conferences on topics related to civil engineering. He also has published 3 books, along with many abstracts & proceedings to his name. His interests lie in concepts of Waste Water treatment and disposal, GIS and its application, System Approach for Passive Solar Architecture Design, Renewable energy Technology and Management.

The centre is building knowledge repository, for example, for water testing and utilization history, engineering blueprints, bill of materials, benchmarks, satellite images, and social audit data, the repository would be accessible online. Investigators in field may send SMS to report, for example, water level in a tank and suspected pathogen contamination.  The hub consists of two professors and several students, apart from Prof. Rajiv Gupta. Each of them is working to reduce cost, shorten implementation period, monitor water bodies remotely, or disseminate knowledge speedily. Prof. Yashvardhan Sharma is designing an IT network to monitor water quality and utilization of each tank or reservoir from a centre located at BITS campus.

Prof. Raaj Ramsankaran is designing an automated tool that would enable a junior engineer to design the Aakash Ganga network in a few days, to analyze if-then scenarios in real time, and to optimize the design. This tool will take inputs in the form of information on slope of the village, elevation of the village, and distance between houses, material costs, rooftop footage, and area of the village. The digitized map of the village will help in generating a complete civil design of the pipes & location of the tanks in the village. The tool will be using GIS and genetic algorithms for complete optimized designs.

The student team members, inspired innovators, are: Sourabh Bhati, Saurabh Bulchandani, Sumit Kumar, & Ayush Agrawal. Learn about what they are doing:

Sourabh Bhatt - Designing a low-cost drip irrigation system using locally manufactured "matka.” The geometry of "matka” (earthen pot) will be designed to match the root structure. It would minimize the water consumption in irrigation and repurpose the trade of local pottery makers. Once developed, the drip irrigation system is expected to maximize produce or revenue per litre of irrigation water.

Saurabh Bulchandani – Coding a data visualization system for Akash Ganga. The pedestals will display Google Earth map with anointed locations of the tanks. The data, inscribed on the pedestals, will consist of, for example, benchmarks, demographics, and sponsor names.

Sumit Kumar - Designing an automated tool for Aakash Ganga network design. He will shape the satellite imagery data for ready integration with the existing geographical information system (GIS). The image data is acquired from either Google Earth or NRSC or another entity and is combined with digital elevation model in a format acceptable by the GIS. The data shaping and GIS integration will eventually reduce field surveys which are labour intensive and time-consuming, immediately, this effort will halve the design cost. As satellite image costs come down the cost savings will increase over time. The digital elevation model, created from terrain elevation data, represents the 3D model of terrain’s surface. The tanks then can be placed in low-lying areas to ensure gravity flow of water from all the houses.

Ayush Agarwal - Designing a numbering system to pin-point physical location of each tank. His  work will help in maintaining a central database of the location of the tanks for their maintenance and effective utilization.

Navneet Kaur - Program Co-ordinator. Navneet will be coordinating the implementation of Akash Ganga Project with participating NGO's.

Rama Mishra - Rama will be working with external Foundations, donors, government agencies and corporate donors to bring additional funding for the project. 

Here is a great opportunity for alumni to get engaged. The DST grant is not adequate for sustaining the innovation hub and the Aakash Ganga innovations. We need alumni sponsorship. These innovations present excellent opportunities for corporate social responsibility initiatives. You may reach Rama in India at or Pratibha in USA at

The Akash Ganga Team with Prof. Rajiv Gupta at BITS Pilani

Watch BITSAA's interview with Dr BP Agarwal at BITS Pilani

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