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The rural energy messiah

Tuesday, 5 February 2013 - 4:26pm IST | Place: Pune | Agency: DNA
When at a young age, noted environmentalist Priyadarshini Karve saw the problems faced by rural people in Phaltan, a desire was born in her to do something to mitigate these problems. It was a desire that she was to realise much later while working as a scientist at her father’s

When at a young age, noted environmentalist Priyadarshini Karve saw the problems faced by rural people in Phaltan, a desire was born in her to do something to mitigate these problems. It was a desire that she was to realise much later while working as a scientist at her father’s

Appropriate Rural Technology Institute. Born in 1971, Karve has an impressive pedigree being the great granddaughter of Dhondo Keshav Karve and acclaimed writer Gauri Deshpande among her relatives.

“Growing up, I always wanted to be a scientist,” recalled Karve. She grew up in Phaltan till standard X before moving to Mumbai for her junior college. In 1988, Karve went to Fergusson College for BSc in Physics.

In her third year, she had to do a project using sand and sawdust as a fuel for stoves in rural areas. “For 2-3 months, I experienced what rural women go through using stoves with wood being utilised as fuel. The smoke from stove makes you very uncomfortable. I realised how many rural women must be suffering and felt designing a stove that emitted less smoke.”

She later did her MSc in energy studies and PhD in materials sciences from the University of Pune. After completing her PhD in 1998, she got a grant from the Department of Science and Technology for her project to convert agricultural waste into charcoal. She got a job as a teacher of physics in a college and pursued her research at the newly founded Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute, which her father had just set up.

She said “The early days were tough as we were just starting out. Even equipment was limited. However, my job meant that I had a regular salary and it was fun to do scientific research.” Karve focused on designing chulhas which emitted much less smoke and consumed minimum fuel.

She said these chulhas were aimed at making women’s lives easier as in rural areas, there are adverse health effects owing to the smoke. In 2003, the institute started working to commercialise the stoves and sell it to rural populations across the country. Since 2006, 5 lakh such stoves have been sold.

Her efforts got her the Ashden Award for Renewable Energy in 2002, the Yashwantrao Kelkar Puraskar, the Adishakti Award and the Avani Mitra Award. Looking back on her journey, she says “I have no regrets whatsoever. If I could repeat this journey I would do it all over again.”


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