Uddhab Bharali, shortlisted by NASA for its coveted technology award, thrives on creation and innovation
An Assam-born mechanical engineer ceded from college in 1987 because of racking poverty. Labelled as deranged by his family for his desire to invent things, today he has been shortlisted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for its prestigious Technology Award. Forty-seven-year-old Uddhab Bharali was was only four when he realised that his family had inched towards acute poverty. “Back in 1988, when I was 25, my family owed a debt of Rs.18 lakh and the bank was at my doorstep to take all the property. There was no way I could earn that amount by continuing farming. So, I visited a polythene making factory where two of my fellow engineers were employed. The bank had agreed to lend me only Rs.1 lakh. I reinvented the polythene making machine, cutting its cost from Rs.5.07 lakh to Rs.67,000 only. That’s when I realised that if I set my heart on something, I could actually make great innovations,” says Bharali.
His gadgets are targeted at rural low-income households. He explains, “My innovations are meant for the needy people. My devices should mean something to those who are deprived, otherwise they are useless.” Even after 98 innovations, Uddhab is still going strong. In 2006, his design for a desktop pomegranate de-seeding machine was recognised as the first of its kind across the world. “Americans were not able to solve the problem of de-seeding pomegranate for over 30 years. I am glad to have succeeded in achieving this feat,” says the recipient of the President’s National Grassroots Innovation Award 2009.
This invention led to his nomination for NASA’s Technology Award. Another breakthrough was the mini CTC tea plant, which aims to help small time tea-pluckers and farmers. It has gained him a nomination for the World Technology Award 2012. Tea-pluckers, who earlier received Rs.9 per kg for the tea crop, are now getting up to Rs.20 per kg through this plant.
He also holds training programmes for illiterate students. “I select up to 10 illiterate students and invite them for a three-month technical training programme. I also give them a stipend of Rs.300-600 for the first two months. The challenge is that by the third month, they have to earn themselves a stipend of Rs.3,000 through their merit,” Bharali informs us. The innovator is on to his new project — that is toilets for the handicapped. “It worries me to find that handicapped people are dependent on others for their daily activities. My toilet-chair will run without power. It will take care of the dressing, usage and flushing automatically. When the prototype was developed, the device left a foul smell. To eradicate this problem, I need Rs.10 lakh. I don’t have that much money. But I’ll surely introduce it soon,” he declares. Bharali has other plans too. “I want to run an orphanage-cum-old age home. I intend to absorb the orphans into my training cell and make them self-sufficient. The old people would act as guardians and they will get companions.”