For some, LPG cylinder price hike is a debate from Mars

A few villages in Nalanda are on the verge of achieving self-reliance on cooking fuel and manure front. Thanks to the biogas and vermi-compost manufacturing revolution, it is set to be a really happy new year for the local farmers.

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | December 18, 2012


A biogas tank in Saril Chak village.
A biogas tank in Saril Chak village.

For people in at least three villages of Nalanda district, the centre’s decision to put a cap on the number of subsidised LPG cylinders per household could well be a debate gathering much heat over nothing. In Saril Chak, Raitar, Kalyan Bigha villages of the district, many people have of late stopped buying LPG cylinders, which come from outside.

It’s the eco-friendly biogas — or green “gobar gas”, as the villagers call it — that is fuelling a new dream for people in these villages, selected as model villages for the biogas project.

Besides producing cooking gas, the biogas plant is also helpful for their farms, as the gas-less cow dung is a key element in producing vermi-compost with the help of earthworm, which is used as organic manure.

“We are a family of 10 and had to buy on an average two LPG cylinders per month. But now we don’t need any, thanks to the biogas plant,” said Surendra Prasad, a farmer from Saril Chak village and the first person in his village, as well as whole of Nalanda, to use and own a biogas tank.

According to Raj Kumar Prasad of the same village, there were eight biogas plants in Saril Chak till recently. But the number has gone up to 30 now, catering to approximately 2,000 people. What’s more, 20 more units are there in pipeline. “Most villagers are dependent on biogas for fuel now and we will be totally self-dependent in terms of fuel very soon,” Raj Kumar said.

Explaining that their trips to the city to buy LPG cylinders are already history, a group of delighted farmers told Governance Now since one biogas unit produces fuel equivalent to three cylinders, the news about the cap on LPG cylinder subsidy is hardly worrying them. “In all, 100 biogas units are functional in Nalanda, and 600 others will be functional within a month,” said Sudama Mahto, a district agriculture officer of Nalanda.

Raitar village has 16 functional units of biogas and 40 other units will be functional soon, while 18 are up and running in Dharahra and 40 units are almost ready to function in the village, Mahto said.

Kalyan Bigha, a small village, also has 12 units functioning.

Biogas tank for all
“The success of the biogas plants (in these ‘model’ villages) has prompted the administration to arrive at a decision to give biogas tank to all farmers who apply,” said Kundan Kumar Singh, a subject matter specialist in Nalanda who helps out the farmers at the grassroots level.

He said the local administration gives 50 percent subsidy on biogas tank under Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Yojna (RKVY), the national farmers’ development mission. With one biogas tank coming for Rs 30,000, the farmers are thus given Rs 15,000 under  RKVY.

“Subsidy is given to those who own cattle and are willing to take up the job (of producing biogas) seriously,” Kundan said. “We have the records, as we have formed groups earlier, and know the track record of farmers (willing to work on new projects).”

Explaining the process of making biogas, Kundan said cow dung is churned with an equal amount of water in the tank. “Normally 10 kg cow dung and 10 litres of water are poured into the tank for churning and the gas produced from it is used as fuel,” he said.

The residue, known as slurry, is used to make organic manure called vermi-compost with the help of earthworms. One vermi-compost unit is prepared at a cost of Rs 60,000 and farmers get 50 percent subsidy for this unit as well under RKVY.

“Biogas has changed our farming style. We don’t need to run after chemical fertilisers any more. The vegetables we produce are much healthier, and are less expensive,” Saril Chak farmer Rajkumar Prasad said.

“Biogas has come as a lifeline for us, as we are hardly dependent on any agencies for fertilisers and LPG cylinders now,” said Madan prasad of Dhrahra village.

With most farmers having access to biogas units with vermi-compost units, they use cow dung judiciously for energy and fertiliser. Besides the subject matter specialist, who works at the panchayat level, farmers’ advisors (or ‘kisan salahkar’, as they are called) at the village level work in tandem with farmers to teach them various new techniques.

Struggle to get bank loans for biogas units
While the success of biogas is for all to see, there is a twist in the tale. With more and more farmers willing to buy cattle, they are approaching banks and the animal husbandry department for loans — and that isn’t the easiest puzzle to solve, as many have realised over the months.

Surendra Prasad, a farmer from Saril Chak explained the rigours: “There is a provision of loan for dairy but it is (routed) through the bank. So it becomes very complicated to get a loan. I applied for a loan in February 2012 and deposited Rs 20,000 for that. But the year is almost on its way out, and I am yet to receive any money.”

Surendra and several other farmers said the animal husbandry department should become more “farmers-friendly”, like the agriculture department in Nalanda.

“Unlike the agriculture department, the animal husbandry department does not have facility (to process) loan or subsidy,” said Satyendra Prasad, a farmer from Dharahra. “Farmers, thus, have to depend more on the middleman.”

And that, needless to say, isn’t the most cheerful task going around.

The district dairy development officer parried Governance Now’s question on the issue of easing the loan process.

District agriculture officer Sudama Mahto said: “We will raise this issue before the district magistrate soon since it is a matter of the animal husbandry department. I am sure he (DM) will take the same measures he took earlier in giving loans to farmers to buy power tillers and other modern agricultural equipment.”

Annoyed with the complexities of banks and their procedures, some officers said the district magistrate had earlier simplified the procedure and distributed money directly among farmers in cash or through cheques to buy power tillers (portable machines used for ploughing, thrashing and irrigation) and other machinery.

The happy ending
While the biogas story looks set to end on a happy note, at least in some Nalanda villages, Kundan Kumar said it wasn’t easy to begin with. “Initially no farmer was ready to believe us. No one was ready to accept that a biogas unit will make them self-reliant in terms of fuel and fertiliser,” he said.

But starting slowly (see box) he, along with the others working on the project, were able to convince more and more farmers. “We had earlier experienced high productivity of foodgrain with vermi-compost in Sri method (of farming). But we had to get vermin-compost from outside. Now we can produce it on our own,” said Bhagwatya Devi of Kalyan Bigha village with a hint of pride in her voice.

For now, Saril Chak, Kalyan Bigha, Dharahra and Raitar villagers are on the verge of self-reliance in fuel and manure. These areas primarily cultivate potato, groundnut, sugarcane and cereal crops, and one can see the farmers, especially women, beaming with confidence. Biogas has added to their income by giving fuel and organic manure at much cheaper rates, and also helped raise productivity by several notches.

With several other villages in line to follow the example set by Saril Chak and others, the local administration is hopeful that the day is not very far when any hike in LPG price will leave the people of Nalanda completely unaffected.

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