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BW Businessworld

Into Solving Core Issues

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Though J. Chandrasekaran has a B.Sc in Chemistry and a post-graduate degree in plastics, he is a tinkerer by nature who is constantly looking to improve people’s lives. For instance, when a buyer in the US was looking for a feeding bottle for babies that did not have BPA (bisphenol A, which is found in polycarbonate bottles), Chandra developed what he claims to be the world’s first BPA-free feeder in 2007.

His company, Custom Parts Online, specialises in developing and making customised parts. “We provide design, technical and material inputs and process back-up to companies and individuals for their products, right from the prototype stage to manufacturing.” The self-funded entrepreneur says this year the company will have revenues of Rs 30 lakh.

One of his ongoing projects — most of which involve solving problems in rural areas — is to provide low-cost water filters. The filters use Terafil technology, which Chandra licensed from the CSIR-Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), Bhubaneswar.

Among those who benefit from these low-cost water filters are the anganwadis (courtyard shelters in rural areas where schools, play schools and some other government programmes are implemented) in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. The whole area has ground water that is not only highly saline, but also high in iron content. This caused kidney problems in an area where access to water itself posed a major challenge.

With Chandra’s water filter, the drinking water problem in the district has been solved. The filter has a simple design — two plastic drums atop each other. The drum on top has the filtration discs (Terafil) made of red clay, river sand and wood saw dust that have been sintered at high temperature (no chemicals are used). This technology is now being used in houses as well as in large, 1,000-litre drums, which have higher diameter, micro-filtration Terafil discs.
 
While a number of corporates, including the Tatas and Hindustan Unilever, have tried to provide low-cost water filters, Chandra says there is a huge gap that still needs to be addressed. “Tata Swach, for instance, costs Rs 500-2,100. My water filter, which is equally efficacious, costs a mere Rs 700; and if taxes are waived, I can actually sell it at Rs 500.”

According to a report by IMMT, it costs Rs 2 to filter 1 tonne of water (that’s about 1,000 litres) using the Terafil technology, which is much cheaper than the commercially available non-electricity water filters (their cost of filtration works out to around Rs 6 per litre).

Without any government subsidies, and with the help of a network of NGOs, Chandra says he has already sold more than 20,000 water filters. His next product is a modular, low-cost toilet.

If Chandra is able to get government support, his products could see a major increase in scale and benefit more rural folk. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 22-04-2013)