Train travels have always excited me for the very element of surprise. One can never imagine what you can come across on these journeys. In the good old days when there wasn’t enough facility available to fly to places in short durations, these wagons used to carry people of sorts – all embarking on their own trips, yet connecting on the journey.
For me one such journey was really memorable. While boarding the train from New Delhi, an old lady occupied the berth next to mine. While the train started pulling out of the station, we greeted each other and the conversation started. At her age, it was amazing to find out that she is a solo traveller who has covered high altitude peaks in the Himalayas like Mount Kailash, Om Parvat and likes all by herself including other geographies of India – like the rainwater forests in Assam. For a 73-year-old, one would imagine the definition of the ultimate life is one of peace and comfort. Prabha Gogate however, is an ardent traveller and a very enthusiastic person. But what was more interesting that I found later in our conversation was that while many only talk about it, how sincerely conscious she was about leading her life in a healthy and sustainable manner, not only for herself, but for the community as well.
India is facing a water crisis and by 2025 it is estimated that India’s population will be suffering from severe water scarcity. When the whole world is posting updates on Facebook and sharing articles on how to save water, Prabha is one of those few who have been practicing better utilization of water, and saving it for over a decade now. She prefers to recycle water. She shared with me how she has been making use of Grey water treatment in her colony.
Greywater is commonly defined as wastewater generated from bathroom, laundry and kitchen. Greywater treatment process varies from simple devices that divert greywater for direct application such as irrigation to complex systems involving sedimentation tanks, filters, bioreactors, pumps and disinfection systems. While rainwater harvesting and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) are water conservation measures, reuse of water is an important undeveloped technology. Reuse of water is important because it restricts water demand and reduces stress on treatment system. Specifically, greywater recycle augments existing water use efficiency.
The amount and quality of greywater will in part determine how it can be reused. Irrigation and toilet flushing are two common uses, but nearly any non-contact use is a possibility. Toilet flushing can be done either by direct bucketing or by pumping treated greywater to an overhead tank connected by suitable piping to the toilets. Floor cleaning, gardening, car washing and construction are some other areas where this water can be used judiciously.
The treated greywater can also be used for irrigating agricultural crops and turfs and for maintaining decorative fountains or landscape impoundments. Agricultural irrigation using greywater to support crop production is a well-established practice in arid and semiarid regions. This is the area where Prabha concentrated her efforts.
She started a recycling project in her Salunke Vihar building, where she collects kitchen wastewater from eight flats, accumulating the water into a 500-litre capacity tank in the building’s backyard. She has combined the pipes of eight households together, so that the kitchen waste collects directly into the tank. The water is then treated with a chemical, which acts as a strong clearing agent and kills the water-borne germs effectively. One pack of the chemical every three months is enough for her tank’s capacity.
The processed water is then fed to varieties of plants maintained by Gogate in her garden – from Arabian banana and chikoo trees to magnificent floras like the jeevanjot, hibiscus, snow tub, madhavi champa and night-flowering jasmines. It was her love for plants and gardening that moved her to begin the project in the first place. The water is treated properly, so it doesn’t even produce bad odour.
But paths of altruism are never smooth and success stories are incomplete without difficulties. Some of her neighbours , she says, were unsupportive and often mocked her initiative. They complained about foul smell, mosquitoes and charged her for using clean water for the plants. They completely refused to believe that she recycled the kitchen waste generated from their households. Nevertheless, Gogate handled the difficulties and the criticisms coming her way with patience and gentleness. Her hard work eventually found appreciation though. Many people visit her every morning for tulsi leaves or some fruits and she never lets them down.
In water scarce developing countries, greywater reuse in schools, hospitals and government institutions is proving to be an essential alternate water resource to fresh ground, surface or rainwater supplies.