By Himanshu Shukla
This is part one of our blog series on “Technological Innovations in Rural India”
As it is often said, “necessity is the mother of invention”. Talent can be found anywhere, and this is visible in the multipurpose modified Royal Enfield engine. They can be seen mostly in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, India.
Earlier, old bikes ran on petrol, now diesel engines are also available in the market. When I visited my friend Ankur’s village Pedhla, near Jetpur city of Rajkot district in Gujarat; I was surprised to see how modified diesel engines were used by the locals. From the transportation of goods to conducting agricultural activities like ploughing and spraying of pesticides or fertilizers; modified diesel engines were used everywhere. It was even being used for commuting as well! The name given to this vehicle by people of Gujarat is Chakda and it’s been in Gujarat since the 1970s. I saw this as the best combination of creativity and sustainability in terms of its economical utilization.
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According to RTO (Regional Transport Office) of Rajkot, nearly 10,000 chakdas are moving on roads** and this number is very small considering the size of the state of Gujarat. However, its local availability makes it significant.
There are many reasons why chakda became the lifeline of rural Gujarat in India. During my exploration, I tried to figure it out by meeting the villagers. Why do they not prefer the usual small tractors, which are better designed for agricultural purposes? Why do they prefer chakda? How does chakda make their life easier?
To begin with, chakda has one big advantage over other vehicles available in the market is its adaptability. Even though a mini tractor is available in the market at a price range of Rs. 2 – 3 lakh, the problem arises with its associated parts. Add-ons are required for agriculture activities. If a person already has a cultivator or a plough, then it’s easy to reuse them with a chakda by welding. The mini tractor in comparison becomes a costly affair. One has to make a trip to the tractor company (which is usually far off) for modifications. The chakda, on the other hand, allows for modifications locally at welding shops. This way not only is it convenient to use but is easy on the pocket as well.
Figure: Tractor with cultivators used for ploughing the field
Figure: Chakda use for commutations inside the cities
From Cows to Chakda: Why the Transition?
It is common in rural Indian culture to worship cows and have livestock at home for various agricultural purposes. The transition from cows to chakda took place due to the following reasons:
- As farmers chose to grow cash crops, the availability of fodder for the livestock went down drastically
- The emergence of water scarcity also had a negative impact on livestock in rural areas.
- Vehicles like the tractors have a big turning radius when compared to chakda. This made chakdas easier to handle especially in the black soil which is found throughout in the state of Gujarat.
- People of Gujarat were quick to learn how to manufacture chakda Add to this, when the locals learned the art of servicing and modifying the engines, the adoption rate of chakdas grew at a fast rate. Today, this vehicle is used for many goods transportation, agriculture activities, commutations, and in some cases even as an ambulance.
- The rental model allowed people to use machines for several hours and pay by the hour.
Figure: Livestock of a farmer in Gujarat
An interesting thing is that some of these modified machines can run on kerosene as well. There was a time when kerosene was cheap thanks to government subsidies. Nowadays, with petrol/diesel pumps are easily available in rural India, kerosene is not used that widely.
Figure: Showing usage of the vehicle for spraying pesticide or insecticide
Source: Ankur Khanpara, PhD Research Scholar at CTARA, IIT Bombay
Technological Innovation at Grassroot Level in Rural India
Many innovative technologies are developed locally rather than by any qualified engineers. The best part is, most of these technologies are community-driven self-initiatives which are invented based on the needs of society. Chakda is one of those technologies which has been very helpful in rural areas of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
Besides several advantages, technological innovations like chakda have some downsides as well. One major drawback of chakda is its non-compliance with the pollution norms of India. As most of these vehicles work on old engines, and with lakhs of these vehicles are running on the roads of Gujarat, it will have a negative impact on the environment. With the livelihood of several locals dependent on chakda, no strict laws have been implemented on its usage as of now. The policymakers on their part are working towards coming up with a viable solution that could benefit the local population without compromising on the environmental aspects.
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