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Taking the Jaipur Foot forward

Harihar Swarup writes about DR Mehta, social worker.

People who live in war-torn zones, from Afghanistan to Rwanda, may have never heard of New York or Paris, but they know of Jaipur — the birthplace of Jaipur Foot, which has changed the life of land-mine amputees. The Jaipur Foot, developed in 1970, is low-cost, light and mobile. Those who use it can run, climb trees and even pedal a bicycle. While an artificial limb can cost several thousands of dollars in the US, the Jaipur Foot costs only $30 in India.

As aid pours in war-ravaged Afghanistan, a special consignment from India is probably bringing more happiness to Kabul than the rest of the world's cargo put together. The consignment consisted of 1,000 pieces of Jaipur Foot and was flown by a special IAF aircraft to Kabul as a goodwill gesture. The step has earned India more appreciation than any amount of diplomacy.

Along with the consignment went a team from Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), which provides over 16,000 prosthetic fittings a year, besides 60,000 calipers, appliances and other aids — all free of cost.

DR Mehta, a social worker, established the BMVSS in March 1975. He was honoured with Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award last month. The award carries a citation and a cash component of Rs 5 lakh and was conferred on Mehta for his outstanding contribution towards the promotion of communal harmony and goodwill. Former recipients of the award include Mother Teresa, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Lata Mangeshkar, Sunil Dutt and Dilip Kumar.

Born in Jodhpur, Mehta joined the IAS in 1961 and held important positions in the Rajasthan Government and later, the Centre. He is now an honorary volunteer of the BMVSS, which has emerged as the largest organisation for the handicapped in the world, benefiting over one million people so far.

Mehta's focus on combining social service with science led to a memorandum of understanding between Stanford University and the BMVSS, resulting in the development of Jaipur Knee. It was hailed by the Time magazine as one of the best inventions of the world for 2009. Mehta is also an animal activist and has been associated with animal homes. He has also published literature on animal welfare.

As many as 10 million people in India are suffering from loco-motor disabilities. The fitment of artificial limbs and calipers and other aids has to be further augmented on a large scale. This will entail huge finances and fundings.

An article published in the American Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics says, every year 25,000 fresh amputees get added to this number. This translates into enormous effort to rehabilitate them with the required aids.