Black gold

The desire for gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Being a woman, as I am expected to go ga-ga over gold, I chose a different colored one instead. Black gold. No, I don’t have any slick oil deals, but I stick to good old home-made compost. Rana and I were introduced into the world of solid waste

3 tier Kambha (small)

management when we worked with the dedicated teams of Citizen Matters and 2bin1bag. We haven’t stopped talking trash since then. One of the many things we learned in this journey was to keep our wet waste with us. Since we were planning to move homes, I thought of using a guinea pig – my father. He went in for a  home composter, the smallest earthen Kambha set from Daily Dump.

It has been fairly smooth sailing for him. He proudly says that not even a single curry leaf has left his home. The initial bag of remix powder (cocopeat) lasted him for nearly 12 months. In terms of investment, it has been quite minimal, even if you consider INR 140 for a remix bag! This is a system of aerobic composting, where the

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father's garden

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father’s garden

pots have holes in them, allowing for movement of air. Once you “prepare” a pot – that is, add a layer of newspaper, dry leaves and a few handfuls of remix powder or mature compost- all you need to do is add the wet waste and layer it with remix powder. No stirring required. You can do this ritual every day, or whenever you gather about a few handfuls of wet waste. He keeps his composting unit indoors, so that he doesn’t have to take extra precaution during rains. There is decent ventilation at home, and hence, there is no smell near the Kambha.

While he was midway into this journey, we shifted homes. We were looking for a unit for a four-member household and I thought of going in for


Notice the holes on the sides

two 55 ltr drums from Shudh Labh. This comes with a bottom tray, and the process is similar to Daily Dump’s Kambha, as this is also aerobic. One layer of “greens” (the wet waste) needs to be topped up with a layer of “browns” (microbial cocopeat, in this case). You might ask me, “Hey, but these drums are plastic!” Yes, of course, but this isn’t a single-use disposable. Just imagine, after every use, if I begin to throw these drums!


IMG_20161105_130727This was our first harvest of black gold, the mature compost – its fragrance reminding us of the wet earth after the first rains. We sieved it, because we thenIMG_20161105_133413 began to gift our compost. My mum-in-law says that in her days, she would prepare sweets, or sambar powder, or a special dish to gift her loved ones. Times


Half-done compost tells tales, of who sneaked in groundnuts while nobody was watching

are a-changing, and she now collects idli batter covers to gift compost 😀 The usual practice in any Indian home is to take guests around and show off our place. In our family, we show off our garbage. I mean, we show them all the wet waste that has been sitting around for months.


Mature compost, sieved

But this wasn’t without hiccups. My dad was layering wet waste with compost and saving


My mum-in-law cutting peels, to hasten the composting process.

on money. “Oh, you think I can’t do the same?” said the thought bubble in my head. So, at home, I advised everyone to use a mix of microbial cocopeat and mature compost for the layer of browns. They say, “penny wise pound foolish”, and for a good reason. After one of the drums filled up and we parked it aside for it to


White fungus on top, a sign of healthy compost

mature, it began giving out leachate in the tray below. The tray is there for that reason, but that didn’t necessarily mean we had to ensure it was used! What followed next was an exercise of drying out the half-done compost, adding a lot of extra microbial cocopeat to hold the moisture, and splitting this into two drums. In the process of trying to beat my father’s low spending, I ended up spending more money and time in fixing problems. Of course, we were rich with experience. I now gift free advice, tips and tricks along with home-made compost.

The time had come, again. Do we try a different method? I was still hell bent on cutting


No holes. What are friends for, if you don’t exchange composting bins? 😉

down on cost, you see. I was discussing these with my friends, gathering tips. Just then, my friend, Anjana, said she had moved to leave-it pots by Daily Dump. She offered to let me borrow her Trustbin bins. Now, this is a system of anaerobic composting, where the container doesn’t have any holes. You prepare the bin by adding a handful of jaggery, and place a tray on top of it. Add your wet waste, press it down to remove any extra air, and layer with two tablespoons of bran for every inch of wet waste. After a bin is full, keep it aside for a minimum of two weeks, where the wet waste ferments and gets “pickled”. This, is the first stage of the bokashi method. If you open the bin, you will get a strong, vinegar-like smell. You might take a bit of time getting used to it, but this is probably a point to be wary of, in this method.



Palak in our kitchen garden

In the second stage, you go back to aerobic method. Take out a layer of fermented pickle and add it to the aerobic container. Layer it with an equal quantity of already mature compost. I had a lot of the latter, anyway. So right now, I am using a combination of Trustbin containers for the first stage, with Shudh Labh drums for the second stage. Yup, I layer with mature compost and even then, the


Mum-in-laws green thumb, aided by home-made gobbara

pickle turned to black gold in just about two weeks! That was real quick 😀 I tried the second stage in a Daily Dump leave-it pot as well – the earthen pot absorbed not just the moisture, but also the rather strong smell of the fermented pickle.  Don’t try this combination, though, of using Daily Dump along with Bokashi.

Oh, you must be wondering about the jaggery. It has a role to play.  The anaerobic bin begins to give out a leachate – a liquid which gets generated from the wet waste, in combination with the bran. This liquid is highly nutritious and concentrated. You can harvest this “brew” once every few days. Mix it in a proportion of 1:30 and water your plants with it. Or, use it undiluted to de-clog your drains. I am testing out the brew in our kitchen garden and my father’s garden. Oh yes, our tomato plant is growing way out of control, and I don’t know if we should blame the brew 😉

Our composting journey has been fulfilling, and I must say I am addicted to it. I am proud to say that we keep all our wet waste with us. I prefer the daily dump earthen pots to the plastic drums, because by nature, the earthen pots absorb more moisture. In fact, sometimes they absorb so much moisture that your compost could be dry! In terms of


Lovely, beautiful white fungus in the bokashi unit.

cost and the fact that I am not always around to do firefighting of drum leakages, I would recommend either the Kambha or smaller drums (if you prefer plastic). The khamba is prone to breakage if you walk clumsily and knock it down. At the moment, I am enjoying making the brew and seeing the compost maturing so quickly. I must also add that after we shifted to bokashi, we have not seen any maggots in our compost. Note that maggots are absolutely harmless to humans, and are great for your compost.

If you are planning to get started on your composting journey, don’t think twice. Start right away – check SwachaGraha for more info 🙂 Please feel to ask questions, or share your tips and tricks in the comments section.


How to file an RTI

Over the last year, Sugandhi and I have filed a few RTIs to obtain information about projects/proposals that we felt were against the environment and needed more information to understand what was going on. We have been successful in obtaining the information we sought. How we have used this information, we will share in a later post.

Initially it was a little difficult finding out what to do. Everything is on the net but we had to search a lot for it. We had to speak to different people to understand the process. I decided to collate all this information into one blog post so that others can benefit from this. Note this information is a collation from different sources and credits have been provided to them at the end of the post. The information is by no means complete but is enough to get one started to file an RTI.

Here is a high level overview of the process:


So what is RTI Act?

It is an Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

You can access the complete Act from the link

What is RTI ?

Right to Information is a fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Every citizen has a right to know how the Government is functioning. Right to Information empowers every citizen to seek any information from the Government, inspect any Government documents and seek certified photocopies thereof. Some laws on Right to Information also empower citizens to official inspect any Government work or to take sample of material used in any work.

Right to Information includes the right to:

  • Inspect works, documents, records.
  • Take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
  • Take certified samples of material.
  • Obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video , cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

Filing the RTI

Under section 6(1)

1. Understand the goal you have in mind and then list the information you want to seek.

2. Fill in the application. The RTI form is available on the website of the department concerned. For example: the forest dept website has the RTI form under the RTI section.

Sample form can be downloaded from here.

3. Write a covering letter along with the RTI form. Just a good habit and practice. Be polite and courteous. This is after all an official communication. Ensure you ask for Attested copies of the documents you need.

4. Every public authority should have a Public Information officer (PIO) in every Administrative Office. The Karnataka Government has a “Know your PIO” website. You can find the right PIO by clicking the link below.

5. Pay a fee of Rs 10 in the form of Postal Order at your local Post Office and mail it to the Public Information Office (PIO) for that department as Registered Post or Speed Post with Acknowledgement Due. Make sure that acknowledgement due slip is not missed out. This helps you know when the post was received by the department. Some states have different fee for RTI. Please check accordingly. You can also hand deliver it and collect an acknowledgement from the concerned department/office. In case the documents requested is more, the PIO can request for a further fee. We had paid Rs 20 Postal Order in order to reduce the turn around time (if any) for one RTI that was urgent.

Additional fee requests and name of Information Commissioner for Karnataka can be found at the link below. At the time of writing this, the Karnataka State Information Commission website which has this information was not working ( so I have provided an alternate one.

6. Wait up to 30-40 days. (Invariably it is more than this). Always give the benefit of doubt to the PIO and wait for extra 10 days to allow for the transit time. Governments work slowly.

7. If you receive the information requested, use it in the appropriate and constructive way. If not, you will either get no response or a refusal letter with the reason specified. If additional fee is requested, then ask for calculation of the fee and pay the amount within 15 days of receiving the request and inform the PIO accordingly.

If you are not satisfied with the information received (partial information), have no response or refusal to request, then go in for the first appeal.


  • If you do get a response, ensure you keep every single document with you, including the cover that was sent.
  • On speaking to a lawyer friend, he mentioned, a common reason for RTI to be rejected is when opinion is sought/solicited. Framing the question correctly is very important. Example : “Does the authority have power to pass the order?” might not get you the right information you need, but asking “under when section or rule has the Order been passed?” might get you more details.

First Appeal

This is done under section 19(1) of the RTI Act

1. If no response to your RTI request, write a complaint letter and fill up the first appeal. However, if you have received a response that you think is not correct, then you have 30 days to file an appeal. Sample for can be downloaded from here.

2. Find the right Appellate Authority. If there are multiple AAs and you are not sure which one is correct AA for you, just send it to anyone. He will either deal with your appeal himself or forward it to the right AA under intimation to you. The first appeal could be to the designated senior office in the department.

Example : In the case of the Karnataka Forest Department, we were asked to send the First Appeal to the PCCF, we had initially sent it to the First Appellate Officer at MS Building.

3. Send the first appeal via Registered Post or Speed Post with acknowledgment due. Make sure you have a covering letter stating the issue apart from the Form.

4. Send the same via email if you have the Appellate Authority’s email to speed up the process. Do mention that a hard copy has been sent via speed post as well.

5. Suggested “Relief Sought”

  • The information sought be provided immediately free of cost.
  • Compensation be provided for not supplying me information within the prescribed time limit.
  • Disciplinary action be initiated against erring officers for not complying with the law.

6. There is no fee for first appeal though some states explicitly mention it in their website if there is a fee.

7. Wait 30 days.

8. Some AAs may call you for a hearing, whilst many other do not. If you do not attend the hearing, a decision will be given in your absence on the basis of documents/merit. If you go for a hearing, take all relevant documents (everything) with you.

9. If the information is important but not urgent and you feel that the PIO has no vested interest in the information, be kind to him and allow him more time.

Click here for a workflow for the process for filing the first appeal.

Second Appeal

We havent yet been to this level. 🙂

1. If you do not receive information in 30 days or the information is insufficient or the information sought is refused, you can send a second appeal to the Appellate Authority of the state

2. Form for Second appeal can be downloaded from here

3. Make all PIOs Respondents. You may also like to include AA as a Respondent.

4. If there has been no response from the PIO and the AA, you must also include proof of dispatch/delivery of the application/appeal.

5. You need to send the form and all relevant documents in triplicate to the Appellate Authority and the Information Commission. Appellatte Authority for Karnataka can be found at

Click here for a workflow on how to file a second appeal.

I would like to thank the various websites that have put up information on the RTI. They have a lot of detailed information, sample forms, and even help people in need. Many of our friends have also helped us by providing us contacts and information. Hope this information helps you and you get the information you need! Its your right!

Note: There is a freewheeling talk by Biswajit Mohanty in Bangalore on August 18, 2013, about RTI for wildlife conservation. Click here for details. Venue: Vittala Eye Hospital, Banashankari III Stage, Hoskerehalli, Bangalore. Time: 6 PM – 8 PM.

Credits and more detailed information about RTI can be obtained here:



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