Satya’s world changed when he witnessed his friend’s death due to electrocution at the tender age of six. He started reading about electrocution fatalities in India and came across an alarming number of stories of farmers who die every day due to electrocution. He decided to eliminate that and came up with a low-cost, efficient and safe equipment that has saved many lives.
It was one of those usual bright days in the year 2003. Six-year-old Satya Illa, along with his friend, was celebrating the Indian festival of Makar Sankranti in Hyderabad. The blue sky was filled with colourful kites of different shapes and patterns. The duo was flying kites together. Satya was on the roof terrace and his friend was on the ground, cheering and trying to catch each other’s kites.
Suddenly, Satya heard a loud noise. He looked down the building and saw the crowd gathering around a lifeless body. He looked again and realised it was his friend’s body. The young boy got electrocuted and lost his life ion the spot.
“His kite was entangled on a wire and he got electrocuted. I could not believe it was my friend,” Satya, who is 21 years old now, recalled.
“I still hear my friend’s laugh, I picture us trying to catch each other’s kites. These are supposed to be the sweetest memories. But in my case everything ended in a tragedy,” said Satya.
To change his surroundings, Satya shifted to a hostel, where he gradually started healing. He became independent and a more positive person.
As he grew older, he started reading more about electrocution and how a large number of people die every year due to it.
“As a college student, I got the chance to work as the college chairman for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). This gave me practical exposure and I learned about the dangers of poorly maintained wires and electrical fatalities caused due to that,” he said.
He spent several days researching on the issue and met families who had lost their loved ones in a similar manner.
Satya’s research made him realise that a large number of farmers were affected every year due to poor quality electrical equipment. The electrical devices they have access to are mostly old and not maintained regularly. This causes frequent cases of electrocution and fatalities.
The unfortunate fatalities
K Saradha, a farmer from Jakkapur village of Telangana, was out in the field with her goats. While grazing, three goats came in contact with the fencing around a mango farm. Saradha saw the goats suffering from an electric shock and rushed forward to save them. However, in the process, she got in touch with the fence and also got electrocuted.
Apparently, a motor starter for pumping water out of the well was tied to the fencing. Due to aging, the insulation of the service wire connected to the starter was damaged. The wire’s exposed part was touching the fencing. This caused the fence to get energised and resulted in the accident.
Another farmer, Panyala Bala Shetty from Medak District of Telangana, was cutting a tree branch in his agricultural field when one of the branches fell on the 11 KV industrial feeder. He tried to switch off the feeder and met with heavy sparks and flames. Panyala received further shocks and got electrocuted. He died instantly.
Satya decided to design a device that could eliminate or at least reduce fatalities caused due to this. He recalls another incident when a farmer, Radhika from Kistapur village, received a heavy electrical shock while trying to switch off the bore well in her farm. She was immediately taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, she could not make it and succumbed to the injury before reaching the hospital. Even in this case, the fatality happened due to a damaged service wire.
“Similar to this, there were also incidents of electrocutions in public places in Telangana that attracted public outcry. Pedestrians got electrocuted at Nampally especially in the rainy season because of the dangerous electric cables hanging over the streets,” Satya said.
And these are just a few examples out of thousands that India sees every year. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of electrical fatalities is 10,000 in India and over 400 in Telangana in 2015. Many of the victims in urban areas were electricity board employees.
A low cost and efficient solution
Satya realised that the main reason behind such fatalities was the age of electrical devices and the lack of maintenance.
Farmers avoid replacing the old devices due to the high cost involved in the process. Lack of awareness was another issue that further added to the rising number of deaths due to electrocution among farmers.?
Keeping all these challenges in mind, Satya came up with a low cost, efficient solution. He designed an ‘Electrical Pump Motor Starter’ in 2016. Made of glass fiber material, which is tough and acts as an insulator (electricity can’t pass through it), the device has a single-phase preventer (protection for the motor) and safety equipment which help farmers to stay safe.
“What makes it unique is the internal circuit, which I designed with the help of IEEE by enhancing safety. We also considered the price factor and ensured quality at an affordable price,” said Satya.
While similar devices cost somewhere around Rs 15,000 in the market, Satya’s device just costs Rs 4,600. Satya made four prototypes before coming up with the final version.
The next step was to convince the farmers to try the new equipment. Satya started spreading awareness about the issue by organising boot camps across different villages of Telangana.
“We update our phone, television, fridge and other technologies in our house regularly. But we continue to live in the house with age-old wiring and electrical equipment. We don’t maintain or update devices on which our entire safety depends,” Satya said.
Satya’s awareness camps and door-to-door counseling helped and people gradually started replacing their old equipment with new ones.
“The biggest challenge was to connect with the community. They were not very open to accepting our interference. So we contacted the influencers of the community. Got them in confidence, educated them and took their help to reach out to the farmers,” explained Satya.
So far Satya has sold 40 devices in six districts of Telangana.
The next step
Satya wanted to scale up his efforts now. He went to Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and enrolled in kanthari, an institute for social change. kanthari helped him with getting clarity about his future goals and the kind of social impact he wanted to create.
Satya had witnessed the negative effect such incidents leave on the family members of the victims. There was a need to empower them. Satya started an organisation, Kaanthi, to give a better structure to his work. Kaanthi aims to promote electrical safety and empower the family members of the victims by training them in renewable energy technologies.
The organisation not only develops these low-cost devices but also organises awareness camps. Further, Satya and his core team of six train the villagers in first aid and educate them about how they can avoid such accidents in the future.
“Kaanthi means light. Through this organisation I want to convert the darkness into light for these farmers and their families,” said Satya.
At the moment, Kaanthi is working towards developing a model for converting agricultural and organic waste into clean energy. Peepal Renewables and Dr. Hafeez Basha (who did a PhD in renewable energy and waste management from Japan) are helping Satya with setting up the biogas infrastructure.
“My goal is to reduce electrical fatalities and turn trash into cash,” Satya said.
The journey has not been easy for Satya. “Manufacturing is a big challenge for us. We need land to prepare and store these devices,” said Satya. He also wishes for more community participation and awareness about the issue.
Satya will be talking about his emotional journey and his successful solution at kanthari TALKS. The much-awaited talks organised by kanthari will be held in Bengaluru on 24th and 25th November 2018 in Bengaluru.
The event will have all 23 participants from 13 different countries sharing their heartwarming stories and their creative solutions. You can help by spreading the word and attending the event. Click here (www.kantharitalks.org) to attend the event.
Photos: Satya Illa