|Gajendra Mandal uses jacks to lift a house from its base in Naugachia. Picture by Amit Kumar
The residents of several flood-prone villages in Naugachia and adjoining areas of Bhagalpur have found a saviour in a modest mason, who has improvised automobile technology and come up with an indigenous way to repair houses damaged by floodwaters.
Gajendra Mandal, 38, takes help of jacks, otherwise used to lift vehicles while repairing punctures in wheels, to raise houses that have caved in because of the floods in the catchments of the Ganga and the Kosi, repair the cracks in the buildings and extend support to the structures with steel plates or wooden logs.
A resident of Guruthan Kadwa in Naugachia sub-division, Mandal’s “invention” is described by his fellow villagers as “jugaad technology” and has come handy for many whose houses have developed cracks after remaining under water during floods over the years.
“Mandal repaired my house at Parbatta by applying his unique technology. My four-room house remained under water for a long time during this year’s floods. Mandal and his men have lifted it around 5ft above the ground,” said Gopal Mandal, the JD(U) legislator from the Gopalpur segment of Naugachia.
“He employed 15 labourers and used 135 jacks for the repair work. His charge for the work was also nominal —Rs 150 per sq ft,” he added.
Mandal had migrated to Haryana in 2008 to try trading in fruit business, but failed to make any mark there.
He returned to Naugachia in 2011 and got engaged into constructing buildings.
“I learnt the jugaad technology in Haryana, where we used to lift houses from sand beds. It was a very difficult task. But by the time I returned to Naugachia, I was associated with over 500 such projects in Haryana,” he said.
Explaining his technology, Mandal said his men cut the top layer of the soil near the plinth of a house that has caved in and remove the lower portion of the support from the base.
“We then fix the jacks below the plinth at a suitable distance before digging the soil,” he added.
Mandal and his men strengthen the base of the jacks with steel plates and wood logs to ensure that tools do not collapse under the weight of the house.
“After ensuring that the weight of the house and the concrete plinth is equally distributed among the jacks, the levers of the tools are moved equally so that the all the portions are lifted in a uniform way. But one has to be very cautious while moving the levers. It has to be done in a careful way so that there is no damage to the plinth or any portion of the house. Once the house is raised, we fill up the gap below the plinth with boulders and concrete mixtures,” he added.
Mandal, however, can repair only pucca (concrete) houses. “If a house does not have a concrete plinth, it would not be possible for me to repair it. We can lift a house to a maximum 10ft above the ground,” he said.
Engineers in the area are also impressed with his way of functioning.
“Such technologies can be very useful for repairing houses damaged by the floods. One does not have to shell out much money for the service. But the work should be done with utmost care and it should be ensured that there is no damage to the plinth of the house during the operation. Else, the entire house could get damaged,” said S.B. Singh, a reputed civil engineer in Naugachia.