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Biogas subsidies worth Rs. 46 million not reaching rural Karnataka

Two to three head of cattle produce enough cow dung for a domestic biogas plant.

BANGALORE (Oct. 18)—Only 14  percent of the total subsidies allotted by the central government for installing biogas plants reaches rural Karnataka due to lack of coordination between the central and state governments. 

The central government earmarked Rs. 3.5 billion to install 1 million household-type biogas plants across the country in the eleventh Five Year Plan, according to a report by the New and Renewable Energy Ministry.

According to the National Biogas and Manure Management Program (NBMMP), a central government scheme implemented since 1981-82, calls for the central government to provide subsidies for the installation of biogas plants in rural areas. Each unit for domestic use costs Rs. 2,700.

NBMMP set a target of setting up 20,000 plants in rural Karnataka in 2009-10. The state government was allotted Rs. 54 million as subsidies for installing them. But according to the NBMMP report, as of Dec. 31, 2009, only 2,805 biogas plants were installed.

The gram panchayat is unaware of any central government subsidy provided for the rural areas, according to a panchayat development officer The SoftCopy spoke to.  

Cow dung that could be used as biogas fuel is going to waste due to the lack of biogas plants.

Villagers around Bangalore want biogas plants

Villagers around Bangalore suffer the most due to lack of subsidies. The supply of liquid petroleum gas to rural areas is irregular, the kerosene they get from ration shops does not meet their needs, and to top it all, the central government has proposed to limit the subsidy on LPG cylinders to four cylinders per year per family.

“I use wood for cooking, “said Yashoda, a resident of Banjarpalya. “The kerosene we get from ration shops is not enough, though the distribution is quite regular. The price of wood is rising regularly and now it is Rs. 15 per kilogram at most outlets. This is too costly for me now.”

Villagers want to install a biogas plant, but they do not know how to build them.

“I built this biogas plant eight years back,”said Chengappa, a farmer from Govendepalya, referring to the one in his backyard. “People from the neighboring villages come to me enquiring about how to install this at domestic level, but they face trouble because the gram panchayat does not help them.”

Ministry won’t comment on cash distribution

Under the Sustained Transformation of Rural Areas program, biogas plants were installed outside homes in seven villages in Kunigal Taluk  in the Tumkur district of Karnataka.

The mission ended when the financial support for the project dried up in 2004, according to a study by The Energy and Resource Institute, based in Bangalore.

The New and Renewable Energy Ministry’s Bangalore branch confirmed that the subsidies still exists, but refused to comment about the money received from the Center and how it is distributed.

Chengappa's biogas plant, which was built eight years ago, is the second such plant built in the village of Govendepalya, Bangalore.

“It is hard to reach every gram panchayat in the state,” said Manjunath, a technical officer at the Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. “We give subsidies at the commercial and domestic level when approached. The ministry is also conducting various programs to spread the awareness, but it takes time to cover every gram panchayat.” 

However, the public development officer of Gollahalli village was unaware of this government program. He blamed villagers for the nonimplementation of the biogas program.

“Villagers don’t approach us because the initial installation charges for a biogas plant are very high,” said Loknath. “There is also lack of raw materials. So whatever installation is going on at the moment is through private companies.”

Various meetings at both gram and taluk panchayat levels were held to promote installation of biogas plants, but no concrete steps have been taken.

Most of the work done in promoting biogas till 2009 was by private companies and NGOs working to promote renewable sources of energy for domestic use.

“Karnataka is the largest producer of milk in south India. It’s impossible to face a shortage of biomass for feeding the plants,” said D. Vidyasagar, director of SKG Sangha, an NGO.

“Rapid deforestation and urbanization, bad distribution of LPG and corruption in rationing kerosene are reasons for the increase in demand for biogas,” Vidyasagar said.

“We promote the installation of cheap biogas plant to individual households in rural areas of Bangalore,” said Shyam Sundar of CREST, another NGO. “The [state] government contribution is zero in promoting the use of biogas.”