Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Naga Chilli: Spicing up DRDO research

(Part I of a two-part article on defence R&D in the northeast)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th May 09
Tezpur, Assam

The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) offers intellectual challenges, but not an adventurous image. A DRDO director is perceived as a man in a white coat working in a laboratory or gazing at computer monitors. But the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL) in Tezpur, tucked away in the northeast, is far removed from these stereotypes. DRL’s Director, Dr RB Srivastava, will spend time next month sitting in the jungle on a machaan, observing how rampaging elephants react to his revolutionary new weapon: the Naga chilli, or bhoot jolokia, which DRL had proclaimed in 2001 as the hottest chilli in the world.

Chilli power is measured in Scofield Heat Units (SHUs); a spicy Indian green chilli logs in at about 100,000 SHUs. Most people, even Indians, would be reduced to tears by eating anything above 200,000 SHUs. The Naga chilli, DRL discovered, measured 855,000 SHUs, far higher than the reigning champion, the 577,000 SHU Californian Red Savina chilli. When the sceptical Chilli Pepper Institute in the USA examined this claim in 2005, they found the DRL had underestimated. The Naga chilli actually measured over a million SHU.

DRL, Tezpur is harnessing all this spice into military applications, such as high-effectiveness tear gas. Meanwhile the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) asked DRL to explore the possibility of using Naga chilli to keep wild elephants away from villages and fields. The DRL’s solution --- a nylon rope coated with Naga chilli placed across paths leading towards human habitation --- will be tested in May and June.

Dr Srivastava laughed as he told Business Standard, “The WWF says I will have to be on the machaan when we test the chilli garland. I told them, God knows how the elephants will behave!”

DRL is also experimenting whether Naga chilli, as a food supplement, might help soldiers in coping with high altitude environments? The laboratory is also working out ideal cultivation practices --- how much water, how much shade, etc --- that will add more zing to this chilli.

What makes DRL Tezpur different from every other DRDO laboratory is its sharp focus on the specific problems of northeast India. And for jawans deployed here, few issues are as important as the provision of clean drinking water in remote posts separated from each other by days of marching across mountains and jungles.

Water in the northeast suffers from a chronically high iron content. In most places it is 10-20 parts per million (ppm), going up to 30-40 ppm in many areas. DRL took on the challenge of bringing this down to the World Health Organisation (WHO) permissible limit of 0.3 ppm.

DRL’s first developed a portable water testing kit, with which soldiers could test water wherever they moved. The kit monitored 11 parameters, including P-h level, hardness, and iron content. Initially it lacked an arsenic detector; that was developed and patented last year. The technology for the water testing kit was transferred to three private companies. It proved highly effective during the floods around Nasik last year.

Next, DRL’s Water Chemistry Division developed the simplest of technologies --- using sand, marbles etc --- to bring down the iron level to 0.3 ppm. The Iron Removal Units (IRUs), which cost just Rs 30,000/- each, purify 300 litres per hour without using electricity. The commercial alternative was ceramic-based filters, costing Rs 3-4 lakhs each, which could only reduce iron to 5 ppm.

Even as the army orders IRUs by the hundred, DRL has just put out an improved Mark II version. Using fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) technology from the Light Combat Aircraft programme, this weighs just half of the earlier steel IRU. The army has accorded its ultimate accolade, fitting three of these filters in the Tezpur Inspection Bungalow for visiting VIPs. A hundred more are on order.

By 2012, DRL plans to develop a portable filter that jawans can carry in their haversacks. This will bring down iron content to safe levels, as well as arsenic, fluoride and manganese contents, all chronic problems in the northeast.

(Tomorrow: Part II: DRL’s major success: a gene sequence identified)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good job, DRDO is at its best in the kitchen. Their product I admire the most is Leh Berry juice, not such a hit in the market yet but more sell able than anything else they have made. So folks stop worrying about rockets and tanks. We can always live with imported weapons but you can count on DRDO to serve desi food that suits our taste. What more can one ask for?

Anonymous said...

DRDO has a good record when it comes to the Food technology. The technology is used by MTR/Priya for their Instant curries

Harpreet Bhatia said...

Excellent information regarding the Naga Chill. It has a huge potential for roit control without causing serious injury. I appreciate the work of the author.

Harpreet Bhatia
Sydney

Tousief said...

I am a student of Botany. What is the scientefic name of the specific NAGA chilli? Please inform the specific species & var. also.

Anonymous said...

WTF!! Do they have any sence of priorities? Where is Indian Council of Agricultural Research? What kind of military application is tear gas and elephant rope trick? DRDO keeps inventing more projects without delivering the previous ones. Like a bitch they are eating up national resources and multiplying labs like puppies.

Col Shukla, for how long have you been retired? F*** the chillies!!

smith said...

Nice article, keep it up Ajaiji you have thrown some light on DRDO's effort from northeast. It would be nice if you can post some pics.

Anonymous said...

anonymous @ 12:34 post shows the typical testosterone filled john rambo found on the internet.
for him this is not glamorous work, but those soldiers working in the northeast, whose daily life is made just that much easier by the drdo's work, would beg to differ.
but john rambo knows better.

AD said...

Thanks heavens, am glad the DRL is diligently and sincerely doing a deserving job,,DRDO will have something to be proud of after the Arjuns and LCAs.

Anonymous said...

John Rambo wont be complaining if DRDO was Defense Ration Development Organization. But he has more life threatening issues with DRDO. Their juices and curries have invited enough ridicule in my Officer's mess. Now this.

Anonymous said...

The Naga Chilli?! That's funny. May be the Indian army can use the chilli as pepper spray?

Anonymous said...

anon@12:49, perhaps the colonel blimps and haw haws at your mess would be happier with malaria, this and that, without drdo's help right?
surely, they can do without food and water, and merely live off their own guts and hibernate when not at war? :-)

Come come sir, lets be realistic. an army marches on its stomach and i think drdo should continue its efforts to keep that stomach well fed and happy.

Honorary consul said...

can this Naga Chilli be marketed as an enema sloution to the needy musharaffs after GUBO session...I hope they supply it thru Dilbu's Canadian vija consulates.