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Making building societies self-sufficient and beyond

When Navin Chandra, a retired Chemical Engineer, took over as Secretary of the Sealine Cooperative Housing Society in Union Park, in Mumbai’s western suburbs, he was determined to make a difference. He mentions ironically that he has gone against everything he was earlier promoting while working in the . His new-found focus was on overall conservation of resources, be it water supply, electricity, drainage or waste disposal.

When he started the initiative, the society was in his words, “a total mess”. The fact that the building was also the residence of a senior state minister did not help matters. In fact, the extensive security cordon led to its own set of problems, with the policemen having to use the common facilities.

Chandra’s first achievement was, to remove the building’s dependence on the erratic municipal water supply. The society had to purchase water from a tanker roughly every third day. Chandra conducted extensive research into the field of rainwater harvesting. He convinced the members of the society to support this initiative. Initially, the members were sceptical, but after seeing the results, their enthusiasm grew and he received their whole-hearted support. The system that was put in place was basically a diversion of rain water from an overhead collection point to a large underground reservoir constructed under the society compound. From this reservoir, the water was allowed to overflow into channels where it would seep directly into the soil. This raised the water table significantly from previous levels and water was available through a bore well at a depth of 10 feet. To allow for excess rainfall beyond the capacity of this system, he installed another system that filtered the water and fed it into the ground through three bores reaching a depth of 100 feet. The bore well could now draw water and supply it to meet almost all the non-drinking water needs of the society. The capacity exceeded 5000 litres per hour. In fact, the scheme was so successful that the building was left with a surplus supply, some of which was given to other buildings in the neighbourhood at times when water was scarce.

The next step taken was to install a small water treatment plant that filtered the bore well water and purified it for drinking purposes. The water quality is checked every six months and it has been consistently of better quality than the municipal supply.

Another endeavour was to efficiently dispose off the household waste. A system of segregation was put in place. Wet waste is collected every day by 8am and dumped into a compost pit in the society compound. Once every two months, the treated compost is extracted for use as fertiliser in the society garden. The dry waste is similarly collected and handed over to an NGO for recycling. As a result, the building has become a zero-waste zone.

Similar changes were made in the area of electricity consumption. A number of solar panels were installed on the roof of the building. The electricity generated from this source is used to light all the common areas of the building. Because of the construction of the electrical conduits, it has not been possible to supply individual houses with solar power. However, another system was put in place to generate hot water by solar heating. This is supplied to all the bathrooms in the building. As a result, no flat requires to install water heaters. The overall electricity consumption of the building has fallen by as much as 50%.

Having achieved success in his efforts this far, Chandra did not rest. Through the Union Park Residents’ Association, he began spreading the word to other residents in the locality. Recently, they adopted a municipal park in the neighbourhood, and converted it into a community space based on the same principles, to make it self-sufficient in terms of water and power. They have set up a community centre there promoting various causes, including support to widows and destitute children. Another recent development is the formation of a group called “Jago Mumbai” complete with its own radio station. Its mission is the “empowerment of Community with knowledge, awareness and motivation to understand, own and carry out its social and civic responsibilities and to proactively participate towards its all-round development and protection of the environment”.

Our city needs more champions like Chandra to realise the dream of a clean, green, safe and peaceful Mumbai for people to live and work in.

Ravi Chandran

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