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New book from Sona Group collects case studies about smart villages

September 29 2021: “The soul of India lives in its villages,” declared Mahatma Gandhi about a hundred years ago. But a century later India’s rural economy still has not taken off, and unchecked urbanization has led to migration of talent from the villages to the cities.
A new book that puts together case studies on uplifting villages, titled ‘Smart Villages: Bridging the Global Urban-Rural Divide” by Springer Nature Switzerland AG was launched last week by Zoho founder Dr Sridhar Vembu, who has inspirationally gone back to a village to lead his company’s $610 million software operations.
The book launch event was organized by the Sona Valliappa group, whose vice chairman Chocko Valliappa along with Nirmalesh Sampath Kumar, Director, Innovation & R&D at the Sona Group have contributed two chapters on the group’s work in the villages around Salem. The event was timed to coincide with the day Mahatma Gandhi renounced the dhoti and shirt in favour of the loin cloth, since it happened at the premises of the Sona Group founder.
The lead author of the book, Dr V I Lakshmanan, Professor, University of Toronto, Canada described how Gandhi's ideas on the village economy were inspirational as were former President Abdul Kalam’s PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) initiatives. He also said how it was heartening to see Dr Sridhar Vembu taking the bold step of reverse migration to a village, thereby being the most apt person to launch the book.
Vembu too talked about drawing inspiration from Dr Kalam’s ideas and how he shifted to Tenkasi even before the pandemic. He said that if in a few villages, one could showcase how through skilling, technology and infrastructure, one could run an enterprise, the model could be replicated in other areas.
 Chocko Valliappa said that the Sona College of Technology, run by Sona Valliappa Group, founded by Kalaithanthai Karumuttu Thiagarajan Chettiar, a textile magnate, has a Gandhi connect.The latter gave up wearing shirts and dhoti and switched to the loin cloth in the temple town of Madurai on September 22, 1921, in none other than Chettiar’s house. It may be pointed out that the Sona Group’s foray into education was also an outcome of the magnate’s meeting with the Mahatma.

 Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, global head, Zoho for Startups, shared her own inspiring story of growing up in a tier-3 city like Salem and charting a career path in a global corporation. “I joined Zoho in 2010, where one of the many important things talked about in smart villages - right infrastructure, knowledge, and accountability – are all part of the organization culture. “I keep going back to this word called accountability in all its depth, in all its power that the word wields.”
In their paper Chocko Valliappa and Nimalesh K. Sampath Kumar have emphasized the need for addressing the specific needs of the differently abled through technological intervention. For such women, the odds are even more heavily stacked. They need empowerment through special training to become independent and armed with the appropriate skills to get jobs. Besides, farmers have to cope with the vagaries of fluctuating prices. Tomatoes may be priced at Rs 50 a kilo one day, then plummet to Rs 15 the next week. Cold storage facilities are few and far between. Farmers are compelled to dump their produce at throwaway prices.
A beginning has been made by the Sona College of Technology at the Women’s Technology Park (WTP), Salem in Tamil Nadu, where it is running five projects, sponsored by the Department of Science & Technology. Fringed by hills, Salem is witness to a quiet revolution, thanks to WTP, by training nearly 800 women, successfully turning village women into entrepreneurs, through sustainable schemes.
Among a host of striking innovations is a solar power dryer, which helps dehydrate vegetables like tomatoes, lemon rinds, spinach, bananas, drumsticks etc, all within a matter of hours. The idea is to help rural women to set up cottage industries close to farms to help process vegetables and fruits and prevent them from rotting. There is further value addition up the food chain, creating candies from dried products or simply powder for use in soups.
There is a tile-making unit, for fashioning concrete slabs for using industrial waste in pavements. Tiles in different hues and in various geometric designs are fabricated by mixing concrete with steel slag (collected from a local steel plant) and poured into moulds. Sone College’s civil engineering department has developed the technology and the mix for these super absorbent tiles creating circular economies and waste to wealth solutions.
About the book: Smart Villages: Bridging the Global Urban-Rural Divide: Editors V. I. Lakshmanan , Arun Chockalingam , V. Kumar Murty , S. Kalyanasundaram; Springer 2021. 2021.  495 pages.  e-book $ 129  hardcover 169.99
This book brings together technical expertise, best practices, case studies and ground-level application of the ideas for empowering the rural population of the world to live economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable, and socially progressive lives, on par or comparable with the quality of life enjoyed by the global urban population. The idea of Smart Villages takes on greater urgency in light of the investments made in this millennium on “Smart Cities”, taking advantage of the technological advances, particularly in digital connectivity. These investments have and will continue to expand the urban-rural divide, unless similar investments are made in the villages as well. The book provides a much-needed guide for a holistic development of a Smart Village, by defining the need, developing the framework, and describing the delivery, complete with successful case studies. Contributors to the book, from Canada, USA, Africa and India bring years of academic, industry and governmental experience, including organization of several Smart Village conferences. Will be of  value to anyone interested in or active in rural planning, including governmental and non-governmental organizations, industrial solution providers, public healthcare professionals, public policy professionals and students, as well as rural communities around the world.
-Consolidates all the aspects of creating/developing a Smart Village;
-Delivers an effective tool-kit for practitioners in the area of Smart Villages;
-Provides a policy-based framework for the development of an ideal Smart Village;
-Illustrates, through case studies, the fulfilment of key requirements of a Smart Village;
-Brings together experts from around the world to share their vision of a Smart Village;
-Highlights the importance of balancing development with social/gender equity and cultural traditions.

About the authors: Dr. V.I. Lakshmanan is Vice-Chair and CEO of Process Research ORTECH Inc. and Adjunct Professor, University of Toronto in Canada. Dr. Arun Chockalingam is an Adjunct Professor of Medicine and Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine,  University of Toronto in Canada. Dr. Kumar Murty is Director, Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Toronto in Canada. Mr. S. Kalyanasundaram is a Former Telecom Executive and Former Executive Director at the Canada India Foundation.