Rural Rajasthan is largely disadvantaged in terms of access to healthcare, energy, clean water for drinking and agriculture. The Government of India and the State Government therefore recognized five districts in the state as aspirational districts. In such districts, the central and state Governments actively promote the convergence of central and state schemes, collaboration among the citizens and functionaries of the Governments, competition in the form of third party validation and community involvement to improve the development of these districts. Specifically, emphasis is on increase in indices for health & nutrition, education agriculture, water resources, financial inclusion, skill development and development of basic infrastructure. IIT Jodhpur, an institute of national importance plays an unequivocal role in helping the central and state Governments to achieve this goal by providing technological solutions. IIT Jodhpur has adopted the aspirational district of Sirohi in Rajasthan, while it also continues to extend technological solutions to other rural areas in Rajasthan.
Sirohi is a uniquely disadvantaged district, which bears the additional burden of silicosis and associated comorbidities along with the usual challenges faced by a district in rural Rajasthan. Silicosis is an occupational disease resulting from the continuous inhalation of silica dust and is associated with severe comorbidities such as tuberculosis, cancer, ischemic heart disease, bronchitis and infections caused by bacteria and fungi. This disease is highly prevalent in Rajasthan owing to sandstone mining activities that are prevalent across the state. This is alarming as the mortality associated with silicosis is high leading to a higher number of years of life lost. In order to help address this unique problem, IIT Jodhpur, along with institutes like CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi, CSIR-CEERI, Pilani, AIIMS Jodhpur, Desert Medical Research Centre (DMRC) - Jodhpur, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Rajasthan Ayurvedic University - Jodhpur, Centre for Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) - Jodhpur and Agriculture University at Mandore - Jodhpur, is jointly providing technological solutions not only to tackle silicosis, but also for the overall development of Sirohi. Specifically, solutions have been developed in the areas of accessible healthcare, clean energy, clean drinking water and alternative agriculture strategies.
As a preventive measure to reduce the incidence of silicosis, stone-dust precipitator systems have been developed to capture and precipitate the stone dust before inhalation by artisans. Dr. Ram Prakash, then project leader at CSIR-CEERI, currently Associate Professor, Department of Physics, IIT Jodhpur, led the development efforts. This system collects dust particles with its high suction power, which is about 10 times more than the inhaling power of human beings. Based on vacuum technology, the system filters the captured dust particles using a water spray and produces dust sludge, which can be used to make sculptures and blue pottery items. In December 2019, three such systems were installed at M/s Divine Stone Enterprise, Sirohi, in the presence of Shri Surendra Kumar Solanki, IAS, District Collector of Sirohi, and Dr. Rajesh Kumar, Chief Medical Officer, Sirohi. The developed system provides a dust free environment to the workers and can also be fitted in smaller factories.
Although the developed precipitator systems may help in the prevention of silicosis, early diagnosis of the disease and comorbidities is important for those afflicted by silicosis. In this context, an artificial intelligence platform for detection of silicosis and tuberculosis from chest radiographs is being developed. A cloud based portal for upload of digital X-ray data is being developed. Analysis of the comprehensive dataset using the artificial intelligence system is likely to develop a scoring metric, which will be helpful in predicting the long-term clinical outcomes of patients.
In addition to this initiative, an artificial intelligence based framework to predict patient outcome to treatment based on a tumour spheroid derived from patient biopsy is also being developed.
Patients with silicosis have restricted lung function due to consolidation of the lung tissue. This results in decreased respiratory capacity in these patients. Current modes of testing lung function in humans employ the spirometry based evaluation of lung capacity that requires active and forced breathing into the spirometer. This is often a problem with the reduced capacity of silicosis and TB patients. Oscillometry based forced air devices are better suited for this scenario as this does not require intensive breathing by the patients for measurement of the lung capacity. CSIR- IGIB has been instrumental in the development of such an oscillometer - pulmoscan that has the added benefit of being extremely portable with real time data and hence can be used at field sites extensively. In discussion with the hospital at Sirohi, the first pulmoscan device was successfully tested for patients with respiratory problems. This was done by setting up a 3-day camp during 12-14 November 2019, wherein the vital parameters of the patients and the lung function was assessed by both a spirometer for comparison with the pulmoscan device. The clear advantage of using a forced air device was seen with the pulmoscan as against the spirometer in patients with extensive lung obstruction. The ability of pulmoscan to detect gross alterations in lung capacity was also visible in these patients. However, further analysis of the lung functions in larger sets of patients with respiratory disorder - silicosis/TB would be required to develop an artificial intelligence based modality for screening patients.
Access to potable water is a significant challenge in many parts of India, and especially so in Rajasthan. This is an issue of urgency in rural and remote areas that are not serviced by piped water supply. Given the size and population of our country, we are faced with a unique set of problems with respect to water. There is a need for simple, robust technologies and indigenous development addressing problems on various scales. IIT Jodhpur has taken up the responsibility of translating design, development and research on water technologies for the benefit of society at large, particularly in rural and remote areas. These technologies are targeted at increasing potability and production of water and optimizing consumption.
Pressure driven membrane processes such as Microfiltration (MF), Ultra-filtration (UF), Nano-filtration (NF), and Reverse Osmosis (RO) play an important role in water purification. IIT Jodhpur has designed and developed a decentralised water purification unit based on the UF membrane-assisted sorption process. The UF has a 20-100A pore size which is capable of removing bacteria, virus and high molecular weight substances. It runs by gravity and is useful for the removal of fluoride, bacteria and viruses from drinking water. It does not require electricity for water purification, hence it is a cost-effective green technology that is ideal for rural and remote locations.
These interventions using UF technology have been carried out at Government schools in the districts of Sirohi and Jhunjhunu so far. By involving staff members, students, village manpower and local institutions such as JJT University - Jhunjhunu, and the involvement of the local community, these installations have empowered these communities to adopt decentralized and self-reliant technology solutions to the problem of potable water. IIT Jodhpur is planning to set up fifty such water purification units in different schools of rural and remote areas of Rajasthan in the next phase of this project.
Along with the provision of a low-cost, indigenous, non-polluting and user-friendly solution to the problem of potable water, the introduction of this technology in village schools enables students to get exposure to practice-based, skill-oriented learning. We hope that such examples will inspire the students in these schools towards developing such technologies in the future.
In less than a year, the decentralized water purification units were installed and being used at the above locations in the districts of Sirohi and Jhunjhunu. IIT Jodhpur is planning to set up fifty such water purification units in different schools of rural and remote areas of Rajasthan in the next phase as a part of SSR.
Alongside water availability and use, water production is an equally important consideration given the arid and dry nature of the Thar Desert. IIT Jodhpur is exploring the possibility of water production through the condensation of water vapor on specific surfaces, especially in the low temperatures and lake based micro-climate of Mt. Abu at Sirohi. While the climate of Mount Abu varies with altitude, the top of the region is pleasant and moderate for the longer part of a year, with temperatures of 23-25°C from March to July and -2 to 25°C from November to February and average rainfall. This fog harvesting or dew catching technology is being explored through a set of stills at Mt. Abu. This project has been allotted to IIT Jodhpur by the Department of Agriculture, Sirohi, and is being conducted in collaboration with them.
Currently, the experiments yield 3-4 liter/day per square meter of dew catcher surface. Meraj Ahmad, Lovelesh Dave, Hanwant Rathore and Nirmal Gehlot from IIT Jodhpur planned and executed these installations and are presently studying the catchers for better moisture catching capabilities. The implications of this technology are tremendous for a water-scarce region such as Rajasthan.
The G-filter technology has been developed by IIT Jodhpur’s Ph.D. students Sandeep Gupta, Amrita Kaurwar, and Rajkumar Satankar as a solution to the challenge of potable water. These are frustum gravity-based ceramic water filters developed to use and empower the traditional artisan’s (Potter or Kumhar) skill of our rural villages. The raw materials for the manufacture of G-filter include clay and organic materials. The nature of organic materials and type of clay used can vary depending on the location, production process and type of industry. The compositional variation and raw material availability enable the implementation of a customized solution to the water problems specific to a location. The G-filter will enable filtration and contaminant removal through the ceramic, a result of the clay’s microstructure, manufacturing process, and electro-kinetic processes that occur when water interacts with the ceramic over its holding time. Given the presence and prevalence of potters in rural India, the implications of this technology are huge for the water access and governance in our country. This research has been featured in the MRS Bulletin in an article titled “The G-filter: A simple high-tech solution to India’s water pollution” in their 44th volume published in December 2019.
The G-filter technology can penetrate into local markets across India because of the reduced costs of establishing skill sets, teaching, and gaining local trust. G Filter receptacles are providing potable quality water at par with WHO standards at almost 1 liter per hour at different household installations in Pali, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.
Technology translation involves the cultivation of mutual trust between researchers and local residents. Through a process of continuous, on-site research in rural Rajasthan, we are understanding and meeting local needs and difficulties in the implementation of this technology. Presently, IIT Jodhpur is also trying to manufacture G-filters for the removal of selective contaminants; trials are being conducted in different locations at Pali. The rewards of such work go beyond the academic ivory tower. We were overjoyed to receive a picture from a two-year-old user of the G-filter from Sanawada, Jaisalmer.
The challenges of agriculture in an arid region involve the optimal consumption of water for irrigation. To meet this challenge, a project on sub-surface irrigation has been implemented in the lemon farm of Mr. Ramesh in the village of Esau in Ajari Gram Panchayat, Sirohi. The SSPV (Sub-Surface Porous Vessel) Technology is an innovative product delivered through a RuTAG IIT Delhi funded project at IIT Jodhpur. Lovelesh Dave, Pankaj Jakhar, Hanwant Rathore and Nirmal Gehlot are the young minds behind the execution of this project. SSPV is useful for drainage management, water conservation, root medication, landscaping, low energy irrigation, afforestation and enables remediation of contaminated/saline soils. After implementing this technology in Mr. Ramesh’s lemon farm, we have observed an approximately 30% reduction in the consumption of water for irrigation. The overall benefits include water conservation, better nutrition for fruit crops, root medication and improved fertility at low costs. The SSPV technology can also potentially be used in setting up organic kitchen gardens for individual households and organizations to increase food self-sufficiency amongst people during a pandemic.