The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lesson for cow crusaders

Vellore, Dec. 2: In a cattle shed at a village in Vellore, a large green pumpkin sits on a blue chair. “It is as sturdy as a new groom. Can anyone lift it'” challenges district collector A.C. Mohandass.

The pumpkin — fresh from the farm — is the first to be grown organically in Selamanatham village, 26 km from Vellore town.

Surrounded by hills thirsting for afforestation, the village, along with several others in the district, has launched a project that would warm the hearts of animal rights activists and eco-conservationists like Vandana Shiva.

Grown with vermi-compost (organic manure) produced inside the long shed, the pumpkin is a ‘trophy’ of the Cattle-Centred Integrated Environmental Conservation, a unique state-NGO-private sector initiative.

Under the project, “useless or discarded” cattle — particularly male calves — are utilised for waste management instead of being sent to abattoirs in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh or Kerala, says C. Srinivasan of the NGO Exnora Green Cross, Vellore.

Villagers unable to manage their cattle are persuaded to donate their calves to the project. Kitchen waste and other edible organic wastes from all the households are fed to the calves. In urban areas such as Vellore town, left-over banana leaves, used for serving food in hotels and marriage halls, are also fed.

The ‘Vellore Model’, works thus: women members of a self-help group at Selamanatham (in some other villages there are male self-help groups), collect all the waste, going door-to-door on a tricycle, and transport them to the recycling shed.

In the shed, the waste is segregated into organic and non-organic. All the “kitchen waste” — the leftover cut vegetables and food — is fed to the cattle in the shed. The non-biodegradable wastes like plastics are tackled separately.

Within eight hours every day, the cattle churn out the dung that goes into making the organic manure. Since the dung emanates methane, it is mixed with water in a small biogas plant nearby to separate the methane gas. The methane could be used for small lighting purposes inside the shed itself, as is done in Selamanatham.

The “slurry” is used for “aerobic composting” of the organic wastes stacked up in beds in cement tubs. Earthworms are then introduced into the compost for “vermi-composting”.

The organic manure thus obtained is sold to the Agriculture and Forest departments, besides large farmers. The organic manure fetches up to Rs 5.50 a kg and can make the project money-viable.

“It is thus not only protecting the cattle, but restoring the ecological chain, as part of an integrated environmental conservation approach,” explains M.B. Nirmal, who founded Exnora in Chennai several years ago.

“Last Diwali, we saved 200 heads of cattle in this village from going to the gallows,” says Srinivasan, adding that they aimed to cover all the remaining 191 villages around the hills in Kaniyambadi block, a reserved forest area.

The project is also saving the hills from forest degradation as cattle looked after in the sheds do not stray into the forest areas, chips in Ajay Singh Panwar, district forest officer, Vellore.

Part of the funds for the Selamanatham project has come from the state and national afforestation projects.

Tamil Nadu’s third largest cattle market in Tamil Nadu, the Poigai shandy, is just 12 km from Vellore. Every Tuesday, about 15,000 cattle are sold and bought, mostly male calves or sterile and aged cows, and taken to slaughterhouses in Kerala.

The Tamil Nadu Jain Mandal, the Theosophical Society and the Animal Welfare Board of India “are also helping us in the save cattle effort”, said Srinivasan.

The other areas that have also launched the project include Gandhi Nagar Town Panchayat near Vellore, a ward in Vellore town, the Narayani Temple campus at Ariyur Malaikodi Village and the Palavansathu Kuppam village panchayat.

“If we can maintain this momentum, we can cover all the blocks in Vellore district in a year’s time,” hopes Mohandass. Other districts like Ramanthapuram, Sivaganga and Nagapattinam are also keen on this “total solid waste management” model.

Yesterday, the Vellore Institute of Technology, founded by former MP, G.Vishwanathan, became the first educational institution in Tamil Nadu to implement an integrated “zero waste management” project in its backyard.

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