The Young Good Samaritan
At 16, Naisargik Lenka had bigger goals than most teens, like saving the public from cancer-causing elements in the soil and water
He lives of an average 16-year-old would very much not be involved with such persistent concerns over problems such as finding out about the harmful effects of hexavalent chromium in soil and water and ways to prevent them from harming the general public. For Naisargik Lenka, a Class X student of DAV Public School, Unit V111, in Bhubaneshwar such concerns motivated him to be a public servant. It is for his persistent efforts in this sphere that he was awarded the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar (National Child Award) in the Innovation category by Honorable President Ram Nath Kovind last year.
“Chromium mining is common in Odisha’s Sukinda valley, and consequently, hexavalent chromium (Cr (VI)) finds its way into the soil and water bodies. It is the biggest source of pollution in these mines. Approximately 30 lakh people in the area have developed cancer as a result,” Lenka explained, in a recent interview. Being a native of the Nilambarpur in Jajpur district, Odisha, Lenka was deeply affected when he read about people from his district suffering from cancer and other diseases. “Living in the city gives people like me a life of comfort and luxury. But what about those who allow us to acquire such luxury? Why should they lead a life of deprivation? Chromite mining, for example, only feeds our desire for luxury. Using chromite, we get stainless steel utensils that don’t corrode and other luxuries like wonderful watches. However, the production of chromite also results in serious problems for so many people.
Thus, it’s our responsibility to do something for them as well. That motive drove me to conduct research in this field,” says Lenka. What Lenka has proposed is to treat this hexavalent chromium with a bacterium called Anabaena cylindrica, which would prevent the chromium from affecting the soil and the water and would thus, not harm the local population. Once he came up with this plan, assistance then came from several fronts, for instance from Sailabala Padhi, the former Director of CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) and later on, Kishore C S Panigrahi, a professor at the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER), where Lenka has been carrying out his research.
“Chromium mining is common in Odisha’s Sukinda valley, and hexavalent chromium finds its way into the soil and water bodies. It is the biggest source of pollution here. Approximately 30 lakh people in the area have developed cancer as a result of this.”Naisargik Lenka National Child Award winner
“My laboratory is at NISER and we generally help many students such as Naisargik to make their ideas a reality. So, he approached me saying that he wanted to do something, do something that will benefit society and mankind. I brought him to the laboratory here and guided him in some experiments. The project with the hexavalent chromium is one such experiment where we worked together, at the laboratory as well as in the field, that is, we tried to look at the chromium absorption in the rice fields,” says Dr. Panigrahi.
The role played by individuals such as Dr. Panigrahi has been instrumental in giving shape to Lenka’s dreams. For instance, the entire funding for the hexavalent chromium experiment was taken up by Dr. Panigrahi. “We are always there to support the young students in realizing their dreams. However, if we have access to grants and other funding from the government’s side only, can we achieve this,” says Dr. Panigrahi.
Lenka’s achievements include the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar, IRIS Grant Award Winner, which is a research-based national science fair for students from class 8 to 12 that aims to inspire budding innovators in India; ISEF 2018 Finalist; CBSE National Fair Winner. Recently, he was also awarded the Kalinga Yuva Prativa Samman 2019 by Om Kalina Kala Parishad, Odisha. Apart from the serious science, he wishes to dive into, Lenka is an ardent nature lover and is also interested in photography.