Dehradun Ecologist’s Home Hasn’t Got an Electricity or Water Bill in 3 Years

Soumya Prasad, an ecologist, has not paid an electricity or water bill for the last three years. She doesn’t even remember the last time she went to a market to buy vegetables.
No, she is not living in any cave away from mankind. With practices like waste management, driving an electric car, growing organic food in her front yard and harnessing rainwater and sun, Soumya and her family in Dehradun have switched to a sustainable lifestyle that is not only a relief to her pocket but also the environment.
The 40-year-old credits her upbringing for her deep interest in adopting multiple eco-friendly methods.

“My grandmother was a firm believer in composting our food waste and my father’s company was a pioneering manufacturer of solar heaters in Bengaluru. Even today, our family uses ritha (Indian soapberry) to wash clothes. My upbringing influenced a large part of my life as I ended up doing a PhD in ecology from Indian Institute of Science in 2010,” says Soumya.
Soumya’s thriving organic garden in Dehradun
While she always yearned for a lifestyle with minimal carbon footprints, the triggering point to make the switch came around in 2015 after she quit teaching ecology in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. At that time, she had just started her research on the impacts of garbage on humans, animals and overall ecology.“It was heartbreaking to find that the majority of the cows have ingested plastic in one form or another. The staggering amount of litter we release daily is cruel for the environment. Being in a city like Delhi, it was hard for us to implement dramatic life changes. So, we shifted to live a healthy lifestyle for our 2-year-old daughter,” she says.

Instead of constructing a new house or shifting into a flat, Soumya and her husband, Dr Raman Kumar decided to restore a 60-year-old house. In the process, they vowed to not send construction waste to the dump yard. All the debris was reused to lay the foundation of other buildings. They got their friend Swati Negi, a sustainable architect to construct an additional floor using bamboo and mud.
Bamboo and mud being used as construction materials
“Houses in Dehradun are usually made from stone, mud or timber. But in modern times, it is not feasible to use timber due to its high cost and also because afforestation is not happening to rejuvenate the resource. Bamboo is a better alternative and is also economically viable,” Swati tells The Better India. While restoring they spent nearly Rs 4 Lakh to install a rainwater harvesting structure and solar panels. Here are some ways in which Soumya went eco-friendly:
Solar Panels & Rain Water Harvesting
Soumya has installed 5 kilowatts of solar panels
It comes as a surprise to many when people in Dehradun complain of erratic water supply considering it rains throughout the year. “We get dry spells for about 15 days in the year. Most of the rainwater gets mixed with sewage and thus wasted. Additionally, the cemented roads don’t catch the water and percolate it to the groundwater, causing a water deluge. Rainwater harvesting is the best solution to solve both these issues,” says Soumya.

The underground rainwater harvesting tank in the home can store up to 20,000 litres of rainwater – that suffices the needs of 6-7 people. The captured rainwater is filtered and then used for potable and non-potable needs. The family has stopped taking water from the administration completely. The surplus water recharges groundwater tables.
Just like rainwater, Soumya has also championed harnessing solar energy. Solar panels of 5 kilowatts were installed two years ago that suffices all their needs including charging the electric car.

“My father fought hard to avail subsidies on solar in the 1980s so I knew my installation costs would reduce through subsidies. 70 per cent of the cost was borne by the state government. The excess electricity units go back to the grid that the government uses,” she says. The government does not pay the family for the units but Soumya does not mind as getting an upfront subsidy is always a better option.

Having an Electric Car
Owning an electric car was always a dream for Soumya as during her research she found how vehicular pollution posed severe health risks to humans and animals. This was back in 2015 when the buzz around Electric Vehicles (EVs) was very little. Even the affordable options in the Indian market were less so when Mahindra came out with its e20 model, she jumped on the opportunity.
The car was priced at Rs 6 Lakh and using her savings she made the purchase and recovered the cost within five years. “If I had opted for a petrol car for the everyday commute, I would be spending at least a lakh annually and of course further adding to the pollution levels. Buying this car was an extension of my theoretical research work where I wanted to practice what I was teaching,” she says.
In a single charge, the car can go up to 120 kilometres and even more if she uses regenerative braking (applying breaks to slow the vehicle. The friction results in kinetic energy that can be used to run the vehicle). The best part about her car is the charging option takes only five hours. She only needs a 15 Ampere socket, that can be usually found in public places. Soumya charges the car daily for an hour and it is done for free, thanks to the solar panels.
Soumya puts special emphasis on the option for EVs as this could go a long way in reducing vehicular emissions, “My car is designed for narrow roads and can be driven in forest and mountains. An EV is a perfect option for a daily commute of 30-40 kilometres.”

Organic Vegetables & Composting
Organic produce from Soumya’s garden
While composting and growing food at home was not a new phenomenon in this sustainable family, Soumya actively practised the two only after shifting to Dehradun. Now she had her terrace and front yard. Except for onions and potatoes which are hard to grow in Dehradun’s climate, Soumya grows almost all kinds of veggies including greens, tomatoes, chilli, brinjals, ladyfingers, etc.
Knowledge of seed behaviour, plant varieties, required climatic conditions comes handy as Soumya grows food according to the season. At present, winter vegetables including cabbage, carrot, peas and turnips are thriving in her front yard. She purchases grains and pulses from local farmers who grow them organically. Meanwhile, all the kitchen and leaves waste is converted into manure which is then used in her garden.
How Has Life Changed Post the Green Avatar
Cleaner, healthier and more economical – are the three words that Soumya uses to describe the transition. “Having better food, water and living a minimal but healthy lifestyle has taught us to prioritise our needs. Our stress levels have considerably reduced and I haven’t measured my blood pressure in a very long time. The best part is our daughter has enough space to play, clean air to breath and fresh food to eat,” adds Soumya. For many of us giving up something as simple as plastic seems challenging and there are numerous debates on whether a tomato will thrive in our balconies. However, people like Soumya assure that making a sustainable switch may not be difficult after all.

The story has been extracted from

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