During his recent budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan (GOBAR-DHAN) scheme with the aim of utilizing ‘waste’ to generate an alternative source of income for India’s farmers. Facilitated by an online trading platform that would connect farmers to buyers of agricultural waste, the initiative will focus on converting cow dung and farm waste into compost, biogas and bio-CNG.
However, much before this country-wide ‘waste-to-wealth’ scheme was launched, a small village in Punjab has been showing the way by delivering metered cooking gas produced from cow dung to its households.
For the people of Lambra village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, making food for the family is an inexpensive task, thanks to the fact that they no longer have to depend on ‘costly’ liquified petroleum gas (LPG) gas cylinders.
The village’s centralised community-owned biogas plant — which can process up to 2,500 kg of cow dung daily —not only provides a piped supply of biogas, it also collects dung from the doorsteps of its residents.
Furthermore, it even pays the families a rate of Rs 8 per quintal, letting them earn a profit even after paying for their entire gas consumption!
This brilliant initiative is the brainchild of Jaswinder Singh, a young resident of Lambra who got the idea after seeing something similar in South Korea while on a group study tour. The contrast between the systematic waste management he saw there and the dung littering the roads of his village remained in his head long after he had returned home.
Deciding to do something about it, Singh put down his idea on paper and approached the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) as well as the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana.
With technical assistance provided by these two organisations and a Rs 2 lakh grant from the Union Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, Lambra Kangri Cooperative Service Society (established in 1920 by Singh’s forefathers) set up the biogas plant on its own land. It also provided gas-reading meters and chullahs to its members, paying for the expenses from its own pocket.
Ever since, the biogas plant has been providing a continuous supply of piped ‘gobar gas’ from 4 am in the morning to 10 pm in the night.
This is how the system works:
Cow dung is collected from every house in a tractor-driven trolley equipped with bins and a weighing machine. Each family gets an SMS informing them about the value of dung supplied by the household. Depending upon the value of the biogas consumed by them, money is debited from or deposited into their bank account with the Lambra Kangri Co-operative Society.
The weighed dung is loaded onto the the bins and transported to the biogas plant’s feeding point. Here, it is mixed with water using a machine and fed into the bio-digestor, where it decomposes and produces biogas. This gas is then conveyed through pipes, both underground and overground, too consuming homes within a 2 km radius.
As for the bio-digested slurry, it is an effective natural manure and is in great demand among farmers. Thus, it is sold at Rs 600 per 5,000-litre tanker to those supplying dung to the plant and at Rs 800 per 5000-litre tank to others.
“Gas cylinders are very costly; I have heard that now the price ranges from Rs 800 to Rs 850, how we are supposed to buy that. We get a bill of only Rs 150-200 per month by using biogas.
Apart from low cost, there are other benefits as well. There is no scope of adulteration or less weight of gas being provided by the suppliers as was the case with LPG cylinders. Also, we can get rid of the hassle of carrying cylinders to our place,” a villager told Hindustan Times.
The society-run plant also supplies cooking gas to the village’s Government Senior Secondary School to prepare mid-day meals for its 130 students. In fact, PPCB’s chairman KS Pannu is so impressed with its work that he has adopted the welfare society!
In a positive move, Punjab Energy Development Authority (PEDA) has also started providing subsidy and assistance to encouraged residents of other villages to opt for biogas plants too.
As a result, hamlets like Channuwala and Badhni Kalan have also installed biogas plants. However, they use the gas produced by the plants to generate electricity for village water pumps, thus bringing water to all houses in the village.
In a country whose 300 million bovine population generates an estimated 3 million tonnes of dung, the move towards community-run biogas plants – that clean up waste, produce renewable energy and create valuable manure – can only spell good news.