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Project to fight acidic soil in limbo

Ranchi, June 9: An ambitious plan to treat acidic soil with the help of basic slag — a by-product generated during steel manufacturing — has been put in cold storage after agriculture minister Yogendra Sao scrapped the tender floated by the previous government in this regard.

The Rs 180-crore fertiliser project was first mooted by the Arjun Munda government in 2011 when Birsa Agriculture University (BAU) was asked to prepare a report on districts where farmers were facing problems owing to acidic soil. The university was also asked to find out how the use of industrial waste could minimise acidity in soil and increase productivity.

Accordingly, BAU’s veteran soil expert A.K. Sarkar submitted his report to the Munda government in 2011, identifying around 10 lakh hectares in 12 districts with high acid content. The report underlined that a scientific use of basic slag could increase the state’s foodgrain production by 10 lakh tonnes per year.

Acting on the findings, the then government entered into an agreement with Tata Steel and Steel Authority of India Limited — the two leading firms that produce huge quantity of slag that is generally disposed of as waste.

According to the plan, this waste was to be collected, processed and distributed among farmers as fertiliser free of cost.

A tender for the project was notified in November 2011. Ambika Enterprises and Bihar Mineral Corporation were selected from a group of four.

According to the terms and conditions, the companies had to supply six lakh tonnes of processed slag to the agriculture department at a cost of Rs 3,000 per tonne over a period of three years.

But, the new agriculture minister scrapped the tender without giving any specific reason in November last year. And since then, the department has not moved an inch to issue a fresh tender.

Interestingly, agriculture secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni initially claimed that no such tender had ever been floated by the department.

He added: “Even if the BAU conducted a survey and approved its use, we have other scientific reports that contradict the findings.”

The minister, when questioned on Monday, played it safe. “I don’t know much on the matter as I don’t have understanding of technical issues. I was new in the department and my officials told me that slag use would further damage the soil,” Sao said.

However, he added, that the project would be reopened.