Echoes of Gandhi in Electricity-Generating Spinning Wheel: A "Micro-Power Plant" for the Poor

gandhi photo
Image: Gandhi with spinning wheel (Margaret Bourke-White, LIFE)

It's a fitting modern tribute in a country where every major town has either a statue or a street named after Mahatma Gandhi — the man who saw the charkha or spinning wheel as a powerful instrument for self-reliance and poverty alleviation.

Originally designed as the "Ambar charkha" (meaning "sky wheel") by Ekambar Nath, one of Gandhi's disciples, the updated e-charkha developed by R.S. Hiremath of Bangalore does not resemble traditional charkhas, but is a hand-operated spinning wheel that can generate electricity for six to seven hours of storable battery power for rural homes, while only two hours of operation will power up the specially-designed LED light source. But it's more than a power-generating gadget.
In rural areas where power outages are frequent, sources of alternative energy and livelihood such as the e-charkha can be a great boon to villagers. "I start operating the charkha at home whenever the electricity goes off," says Shanti Devi, one woman from Jatwara village in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

But the idea for a modified spinning wheel is not a new one and can be traced to Gandhi himself. "There used to be, and still there are, many models of the charkha. [Gandhi] made an offer in 1923 to pay Rs.1 lakh (1 lakh = 100,000 or US $2,175) to anyone who developed a spinning wheel, which would enhance the productivity while maintaining its basic characteristics and simplicity. Ekambar Nath designed the Ambar charkha in 1954," explains Awadh Prasad, director of the Kumarappa Institute of Gram Swaraj, Jaipur.

R.S. Hiremath of Bangalore photo
Image: R.S. Hiremath of Bangalore with e-charkha (Applied Gandhi)

The e-charkhas, in addition with the extra electricity-generating attachment, cost Rs. 9,000 (US $197), but are being given away in a pilot project to increase the production of khadi, the traditional but versatile handspun cloth advocated by Gandhi.

"The modified Ambar charkhas were introduced a few months ago as a pilot project by the Khadi Commission under the 'SFURTI' (Scheme of Funds for Regeneration of Traditional Industries) program and they are proving very popular with the villagers," says Laxmi Chand Bhandari, secretary of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). "There is great demand for khadi products and we could have provided more Ambar charkhas to the villagers but getting weavers is a problem these days."

::Cleantechnica via The Hindu
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