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Small interventions, big change in Sidmakudar

In Sidmakudar village, Jharkhand, every house has a biogas dome. The homes and streets are lit by solar energy. And village development committees make all the decisions

Sidmakudar is a typical barren village in Jharkhand, nestled in the Dalma hills. But it's also very different.

As you enter the village, you immediately notice the lampposts lining the main dusty thoroughfare. Also, the biogas domes that adorn nearly every home. And the solar panels that cover rooftops. A close look reveals farmland growing not just paddy but a host of vegetables in this 145-member village. The granaries are full of grain, and the mud houses have sleek solar-powered lamps to light up dark corners.

Meet Hariram Sardar. The dung he gathers from his two cows fills up his biogas dome. The dung, which is thrown in at one end, enters the biogas plant in liquefied form. Once the methane is produced within the dome-like edifice, the remaining slag left behind can be used as organic compost for farming. A tap ensures the required flow of gas for cooking and other domestic purposes.

Hariram's wife Bhama is also happy. She smiles as she lights her gas stove to steam an enormous pot of rice for her large joint family. "My vessels never go black with soot now. Cooking is fast, and a pleasure too. I am able to spare a lot of time for other chores with this stove at my disposal," she says.

Although part of a belt that receives 1,200-1,450 mm of rain, Sidmakudar and its 14 adjoining villages in the Seraikella-Kharsawan district face a high degree of run-off owing to the hilly terrain. Agriculture here used to be totally rain-fed, owing to lack of irrigation facilities and widespread land erosion. Thus, of the 639.73 acres of land, just 106.75 acres was cultivable, all of which produced the kharif crop. Today, the three check-dams, two nadi-nalas (canals), a pond and three irrigation wells, built under the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Central India Initiative (SRTT-CInI) have brought another 28.44 acres under cultivation, all of which now produces an additional rabi crop. The irrigation has also enabled the tribal farmers of Sidmakudar and the adjoining villages to grow vegetables like ash gourd, bitter gourd and potatoes, besides lentils and gram.

Under a renewable energy project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES), in technical collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a biogas unit has been provided to every rural household with at least two cattle. Thus, most households in Sidmakudar village can boast of a biogas unit today. The renewable energy project covers five of the 14 villages that have benefited from the SRTT-CInI programme.

The UNDP-MNES project has also promoted the rooftop solar panels that store energy to light up homes. At present, 30 solar lights brighten up households in the village, and four solar panels light up the main village thoroughfare at Sidmakudar. Since the panels are manufactured by sister concern Tata BP Solar, the villages were able to get them at a discounted price.

Around 3.5 acres of community wasteland on the outskirts of Sidmakudar have been planted with 3,300 sesum, mahogany, teak and rosewood trees, under the SRTT-CInI programme. The plantation is strategically placed next to a check-dam that irrigates it until February every year, following which irrigation wells nurture it until mid-summer. After that, the rains take over.

Primarily aimed at enhancing the livelihoods of tribals in Jharkhand through the creation of water resources, the Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS), a civil society organisation (CSO) promoted by Tata Steel, introduced the SRTT initiative in Sidmakudar and the adjoining villages in 2004. Organising villagers into self-help groups (SHGs) to create a vibrant rural economy was the first step. Once this was achieved, the villagers formed water-user groups (WUGs) to maintain the village's check-dams, gullies and water resources. Village development committees (VDCs) came about in a similar manner, to work towards generating resources and to decide on what needed to be done for the betterment of the village. "These groups were a necessity since there are no elected panchayats in Jharkhand for local governance," explains Shakti Sharma, head, TSRDS. The villagers got together and decided that the first thing the village needed to buy out of the accumulated savings was a power tiller. "By consensus, this was believed to be the single most important item for the village," says Sidmakudar VDC secretary Gurucharan Sardar.

The plantations, solar road lights and common property are guarded and maintained by the villagers themselves, on a rotational basis, through suraksha samitis working under the aegis of the village development committee. The UNDP-MNES renewable energy programme was co-opted into the original project in 2005-06, although actual construction of the biogas units and the introduction of solar panels into the village started only last year.

A biomass gasifier is in the process of being set up to use woody biomass for energy. Once completed, power generated by the gasifier will be used to run rice-hulling and masala-grinding units to enhance the villagers' incomes.

The project winds up in 2008, following which the respective village development and users' committees will take over. According to Sharma: "Our previous experience tells us that once a project gets going, the users' committees in villages can easily sail along. Of course, in case there is a problem, we are always around to help."

- Rina Mukherji

(Rina Mukherji is a Kolkatta-based journalist)

InfoChange News & Features, February 2007