American businessman Manoj Bhargava again proves the Indian press is stupid

Bhargava on his ‘Free Electric’/ news.nationalgeographic.com

If you were a newspaper editor and I came to you and said, “Hey, I have invented chocolate chip cookies,” would you get all excited and run my story? What if I said I had invented a cellphone?

American businessman Manoj Bhargava, who is said to be a billionaire and claims to be a philanthropist, gets news space in India with claims that fall in the category of biscuits and cellphones today.

Late in 2015 he showed a pedal-powered generator called Free Electric that was going to solve the power woes of Indian villagers. All they had to do was pedal. It was an idea that eight-year-old kids take to science fairs every year. Bhargava got prime coverage with it.

His revolutionary cycle has not been talked about again in the two years since, but now he is back with another disruptive invention (three, actually): a battery pack that can be charged from a solar panel or the mains, and he’s got lots of news coverage too.

Battery packs are somebody’s invention, but not Bhargava’s. Indian homes have depended on heavy-duty inverters for years. All Bhargava has done is swap out the lead acid battery for a lithium rechargeable. But even that’s not his invention. You can find many such devices on Alibaba.

Is it a great product? Not sure. The specifications aren’t exciting. Its inbuilt lights (3x1W & 1x2W) provide only 5 Watts of illumination. Too dim to read by, unless you sit beside the lamps. The inbuilt solar charger is so slow (66 hours) that buyers will have to depend on the mains, which means, at Rs 14,500 Bhargava’s device is a rather expensive and under-powered inverter. The only way to charge it by the sun is to buy the optional 60W solar briefcase.

His two other ‘inventions’ — a water filtration system based on distillation rather than reverse osmosis, and composting to make fertiliser —are equally meh.

There’s nothing wrong or objectionable about making and selling these devices. The market can decide their worth. But Indian newspapers had no reason to tom-tom what was clearly not a technology demonstration but a product launch. They lost their ability to think critically because the man’s bio has the words ‘American’, ‘billionaire’ and ‘philanthropist’ in it.

The real story, if they wish to redeem themselves, is this: How has one state government granted Bhargava an order for 100,000 of his battery packs when he does not seem to have a track record in this line of business (he makes energy drinks)?

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