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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Dismal rains have sent civic officials into a frenzied panic, and the city is already seeing a 30 per cent water cut. But now, there seems to be hope in the form of a 70-year-old who promises to bring rain to this metropolis

 Dropping lake levels have been causing city officials sleepless nights. And in this hour of need, their only possible hope is a "rain man". The BMC recently approached Shantilal Meckoni to help bring water to city reservoirs.
The man is no modern-day witch doctor. In fact, he is a scientific expert in the technology of cloud seeding. And, if the 70-year-old is to be believed, he had also helped city fathers with rain as early as 1992. Still, a recent report in a prominent newspaper has angered this 'rain god'.
BMC officials had gone on record saying that the cloud seeding exercise of 1992 was an absolute failure. "We did not have the technical expertise then," they are reported to have said.
But Meckoni is quick in his defence.
"I don't know why they say I had failed then. If I had failed, would they (the BMC) have called me again?" he retorts.

    And he's quick to draw out statistics to prove his claim.
    In 1992, the civic body had chosen 17 days to carry out an artificial cloud seeding experiment.
    "Of these 17 days, cloud seeding was carried out for nine days at the modest total cost of Rs 1 lakh. As a result, rainfall increased by 30 to 35 per cent on those days. Also, specimens of water collected by the BMC in Tansa and Vaitarna had silver iodide particles, which proved that the rain in the area was caused by cloud seeding. Vaitarna's level rose by 10 to 15 metres, while Tansa's level rose by four metres," Meckoni says.
    Now 15 years later, he's back on the job.
    This time, however, it will cost the BMC close to Rs 10 lakh to generate sufficient rainfall in the catchment area of the lakes.
    Meckoni has now submitted a detailed report on cloud seeding to the civic body.
    "I don't charge the BMC for my expertise," he says, rather benevolently.
    "All the money will be used to
procure the raw material needed. If the programme is carried out for 10 days, each day would cost the BMC Rs 1 lakh. The authorities, however, will also have to provide manpower and equipment such as generators, etc," he adds.
    Meckoni likens the clouds over the lake sites of Tansa and Vaitarna to an old motor car.
"It's like it refuses to start. You push it for a short distance, and then it purrs to life, gradually catching speed. Similarly, these clouds need a catalyst to cause them to rain. And I'm the man who will coax them to," he says.
    An owner of a construction firm, Meckoni turned to rainmaking after he met an Israeli farmer who was visiting Mumbai. "I heard about cloud seeding from him," he says. "So I soon went to Israel where I learnt about the science."
    When Meckoni returned to India, he tried out the technology in Kutch to great success.

    It had rained about 75 mm in 1991 after the experiment.
    "The news spread and people started calling me," he says.
    And now, he's waiting to do his magic for Mumbai.
    However, when contacted, a senior civic official said they would be waiting for a couple of days before talking to Meckoni. "Cloud seeding is not an easy process. According to the Meteorological department, the humidity levels should be above 75 per cent and the clouds should be hanging below 500 metres. We will wait till the time is right," he said.

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification where, after a careful study, clouds are sprinkled with sodium chloride and silver iodide to help in the liquefaction of humidity.
A total of 24 countries currently practise weather modification. In the United States, cloud seeding is used to increase rainfall in areas experiencing drought, to reduce the size of hailstones and to reduce the amount of fog around airports.
China has the largest cloud seeding system in the world. The technique was used ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to clear the air of pollution. In February this year, it was also used to artificially induce snowfall over Beijing

Mumbai's last hope, rainmaker Shantilal Meckoni

Shantilal Meckoni


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