‘Gharats’: Vanishing Water Mills

‘Gharats’ or water flour mills run on a stream’s kinetic energy to turn the shaft of the grinding mill.The water is diverted from the stream or river along a channel or canal to the water wheel. The force of the water's movement drives the blades of a wheel or turbine, which in turn rotates an axle that drives the mill's other machinery. The water leaves the wheel through the continuation of the channel. This may in-turn feed another mill. The passage of water is controlled by sluice gates that allow maintenance. According to rough estimates, there are nearly 500,000 water mills in the remote areas of Himalayan region in India. Of these, about 70,000 water mills are in Uttarakhand alone. These water mills or ‘Gharats’ are of the vertical shaft type, evolved over thousands of years and are used essentially for grinding wheat, rice and maize and also to extract oil. Luxmi Nautiyal, our correspondent is based in Gairsain in Chamoli district – the site that was first planned to be the capital of Uttarakhand when the state was formed. Proud of her culture and heritage, Luxmi is, however, worried to see the high rate of migration to the cities among her community. The main reasons of migration are lack of employment and earning opportunities. Luxmi feels, the ‘Gharats’ can be upgraded to increase avenues for income generation among locals. Also, once upgraded, collectively the Gharats could generate 2500mW of power. Also, they will spin five times faster and can de-husk grains five times more than the present amount. Ultimately, this could provide employment to an estimated 15 million people.

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