Keshav Tavre cultivates brinjal, papaya, snake-gourd and water-intensive black sugarcane on a modest plot of land in his own backyard in Bhiwandi, a suburb on the outskirts of Mumbai. He grows what he wants to eat and sells surplus vegetables locally.
So what is it about Tavre’s farm that makes it so special and sets him apart from other urban farmers?
For starters, he has come up with an ingenious and natural method to recycle water that ran in an open sewer next to his house. Secondly, for someone who was not educated beyond fourth grade (due to the financial condition of his family when he was younger), he is very proud of what he has achieved by observing nature and applying it in practice.
Tavre walking through his sugarcane farm. Photo by Prashant Narvekar
Tavre’s relationship with farming grew out of his necessity to address the issue of the open sewer that the local municipal authorities had left unattended for a long time.
Tired of complaining to the local civic body, Tavre, the son of a farmer thought of an old game that he used to play with his friends when he was a kid- fishing in muddy water. During monsoons, he had seen streams forming in shallow gutters along the road. Small fish used to thrive in this water. As kids, Tavre and his friends liked catching these fish that were swift and very difficult to trace in muddy water. To trap the fish, they used to build a low level bund in the water. Since dirt is heavier than water, it used to get trapped at a lower level in the water because of the bund and the fish used to swim over the bund in the clearer water.
Tavre is seen explaining the concept behind his water recycling plant. He has trapped water in one pit, created a bund and dug a pit on the other side of the bund where the filtered water is getting accumulated. Photos by Prashant Narvekar
Tavre thought of this concept and decided to apply it to the sewer. Initially, he built a structure of walls and layers of soil to filter the water from the sewer. He dug pits in his farm to collect the filtered water. With every layer of soil the water passed through, it became cleaner and clearer than before. The cleanest water was then sent to the borewell that he had dug on his farm. Tavre began using the moderately filtered water for watering the crops that he was growing in his backyard. Soon, he realized that he could generate more water that was not potable but very clean and good for industrial use (the water that accumulated in the borewell).
There are many small scale dye industries in Bhiwandi. They have to purchase water at a higher rate from ‘tankers’- a water supply service used by locals who do not get adequate water from the government sources due to the shortage of water. Tavre met the owners of some of these industries close to his farm and proposed selling water to them from his well instead of the tankers at a lower rate.
Some of these industries readily agreed. Tavre got permissions from the local civic body to run this water purification plant and supply water commercially to these industries. He set up machinery, pipes to connect his borewell to the dye industries nearby and meters to measure the water supplied. Today, about five lakh liters of water is pumped through his plant everyday. Tavre says that the only cost incurred by this plant was for setting up the machinery and the only recurring costs are the ones associated with maintenance and repair of the pipes and the machinery.
The sewer running along Tavre’s house (left) and the treatment facility he has created (right). Photo by Prashant Narvekar
Convincing the government to legalize the plant however, was not a smooth process. Initially, the municipal body was opposed to Tavre using the sewer water for his own personal and commercial use which, it argued was under the government jurisdiction. However, the municipal body relented after a couple of years of persistent dialog, hearings and convincing between Tavre and the authorities. Tavre feels that this is a major achievement for him.
Tavre’s poster outside his house explaining the water recycling plant that he is operating. This was put up on the occasion of Diwali, a festival in India to extend season’s greetings to the neighborhood. Photo by Prashant Narvekar
The only advice he has is that water is a scarce commodity and there are several places like the neighborhood where he lives that are feeling the pinch of it. He encourages water recycling. He understands that such a massive amount of recycling is not possible for individual households and suggests reuse of water to curtail its wastage. “For instance, the water that we use to wash vegetables could be used to water plants that we grow at home. Water should be reused as and when it’s possible,” says Tavre.
Post by Alpita Masurkar. She came across Tavre’s work when she was working as a journalist in Mumbai, India. Photos by Prashant Narvekar who works as a photographer with major media organizations in India