By practicing reusing of the treated water we can reduce our per capita water consumption by 40 to 60%. – Makarand Ghangrekar

Interview with Makarand Ghangrekar

Makarand Ghangrekar

Professor, Environmental Engineering, Dept. of Civil Engineering,
Head, School of Environmental Science and Engineering
Head, PK Sinha Center for Bioenergy
Chair-Professor, Aditya Choubey Centre for Re-Water Research
Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Kharagpur, W.B. India

Q1. Please share your inspirational journey?

From the child hood after reading the work done by our freedom fighters, I was/am inspired to do something for the benefit of the nation. During my school days that time I have not left any book available in the nearby Government library and Ramakrishana Mission library, which is allowed for my age group to read, including literature from Swami Vivekananda, Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and other prominent writers like P.L. Deshpande, V.D. Sawarkar and many other English and Marathi writers particularly writing on history. Indeed, it was great inspirational reading apart from the moral preaching I used to receive from my grandmother and parents. 

This has always inclined me to do something for benefit of the society.  While doing education of bachelors of Engineering I never thought of joining teaching profession, but always wanted to become successful businessman.  However, the opportunities knocking on my door I kept on cashing them, including being a site engineer for construction of water treatment plant in Chandrapur, Assistant Engineer in Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, leaving this post for joining NEERI as SRF (which most of my friends and relatives treated as foolish decision), then joining IIT Bombay for PhD and then landing in teaching Profession, starting from Government of Maharashtra to IIT Kharagpur. 

Whatever position I was holding, rather than complaining about the circumstances and facilities I always used these as opportunities, this is something which gave me confidence and made me what I am.  Another important thing is continuity and consistency in the work after understanding what exactly this work means, with specifications required.  Hence, I prefer to work all seven days a week, though I am little flexible on weekends but do not allow break in work to happen.

Q2. How do you see Water Pollution in India? What are the common tips for Indians to solve Water Pollution problem?

As per the Central pollution control boards records only about one third of the sewage generated in this country is being treated and rest is being discharged either partially treated or untreated in the water body, severely polluting the receiving water.  Here we are talking about the traditional pollutants like presence of suspended solids, organic matter and pathogens, however we also need to care for appearance of emerging contaminants in the aqueous environment through the wastewater discharges. 

These are the compounds, more than 80,000 in numbers, which we are using in daily life as personal care products, cosmetics, antibiotics, etc.  These compounds though low in concentration have enormous adverse effect on the health of the downstream consumers of such water.  The presently used technologies for wastewater treatment are not capable of removing these pollutants and we need to seriously look upon the reliable and affordable technologies for removal of these endocrine disrupting contaminants.

I would suggest to practice judicious use of water rather than abusing water.  Since psychologically we feel that water is a free commodity, rather than use we are abusing water.  We need to get convince that there is a cost for processing and supply of this water then only the wastage of water will be stopped or reduced considerably. Soon we need to ask people to pay actual cost of the water rather than the subsidized rate, this will certainly help in minimizing water pollution problem in this country.

Q3. What is the meaning of success in your terms?

I always tell it to my students, do not compete with the numbers, self-satisfaction is more important and doing something for benefit of the society and nation is the great success rather than incrementing your personal records.  I feel personal record or ranking has no meaning in terms of quantifying real success, it should be quantified in terms of the societal contribution.

Makarand Ghangrekar
Makarand Ghangrekar

Q4. Which one thing do you want to change in yourself and why?

Even today I treat myself as a student who has desire to explore more in the subject Bioelectrochemistry, the subject I am researching and holding position as among the top three researchers in the world.  However, I am always ready to accept my mistake, if it happens because of lack of understanding of the subject and do not have hesitation to learn even from my students.  I know the incoming students are having more exposure to the technologies, than what we got. Hence, as on today, I have nothing which is due for change, since the change desired I keep on adopting soon I realized it.

Q5. Where do we reuse water wastage to save environment?

In our day to day life there is ample scope for saving water.  We really do not need potable quality water to meet our all needs.  Hence by practicing reusing of the treated water we can reduce our per capita water consumption by 40 to 60%, which has been scientifically proven by many researchers.  I am in full support of this and would like to see people coming forward to start reusing treated water. 

I understand the stigma about using treated water for potable purpose; however, most of the water that we consume is for fulfilling non-kitchen and non-potable needs, where this water can be easily reused and I appeal people to come forward for adopting technologies which will facilitate safe reuse of this treated water.

Q6. How do you see Bioenergy and Renewables in India?

Particularly, while working in the field of wastewater treatment, I have realized that for the wastewater like sewage it consumes about 1 to 1.5 kW-h of energy per kg of oxidizable organic matter present in the wastewater in terms of its oxygen demand.  Rather by adopting suitable technologies, this energy stored in the chemical bods of organic matter can be recovered in the form of direct electricity, or hydrogen or methane and other chemicals. 

Similarly, from the industrial wastewaters, which contains much higher concentration of organic matter, there is ample scope to recover bioenergy and industries are coming forward to adopt technologies which are supporting it to make wastewater treatment sustainable.  I see there is ample scope for bioenergy processes to be adopted for the waste treatment; thus, rather than consuming energy such processes will recover energy present in the waste. 

However, with respect to meet the overall energy needs, depending on the technology readiness level, I feel that there is a rational for replacing about 20% of our fossil based energy with Bioenergy and we must achieve this, to make this planet livable for generations to come.

Makarand Ghangrekar
Makarand Ghangrekar

Q7. Tell us about one of the moments which changed your perspective towards life?

The training given by my grandfather during my childhood.  Unfortunately, I could get his training till at the age of 10, however he taught me a lot of things, such as how to climb tree, building without staircase, killing snakes, identifying snakes, fight with wild animals and precautions to be taken, making me conversant with workshop tools used in carpentry, paining, smithy, gardening, electric wiring, etc.

All this training made me a good technician today to solve any normal problem faced by us in day to day life.  Then at nights almost everyday hearing story from my grandmother or her neighboring family friend about one historical personality, including Ram, Krishna, Shivaji and his soldiers, freedom fighter, etc., has made definite impact in my mind. This really has changed my vision to look towards life.

Q8. Which one skill do you like most about yourself?

Being honest, ready to accept the mistakes and only taking the share, which I deserve legitimately, rather than hype.  I always say to my students that your own discipline standards should be so higher than the institutional standards that such institutional imposition should become redundant for you. 

From the discipline point of you one should be institution within. Another thing which I consider important for my success is working all along without rest, no weekend business, 24 x 7 all the days making it working days.  I believe, once I will rest, I will rest for ever.

Q9. How do you excel students in their career and education?

Exposing them to all possible facet of life.  Negotiating very tough with them in working hours at the same time being very soft after office hours.  Intermittently, with support of my wife cooking food for all of them an having a family get-together without uttering single technical word during this gathering. 

Participating them with equal spirit in sports, cultural activities and picnic, which actually strengthen the bonds and time to time making them aware of real expectations from them and human values. With few exceptions, I am among the teachers whose most students appreciate him.

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