Gaudhan and Gauseva were two pillars of Indian society from ancient times. India was a cow-based economy, and references to gaushalas can be found in the Vedas. Cows play a prominent role in every aspect of life, from agriculture and nutrition to transportation. The significance of Gauseva was lost due to several influences and increased commercialization for a short-term benefit. People saw cows and their progeny only as a source of income and took care of them until they were productive. Gaushalas lost their prominence due to a lack of human and financial resources, which resulted in an increase in the number of stray cattle. According to the 2020 livestock census, there are 5.02 million stray cattle in ten different states.
India had a total bovine population of 302.3 million in 2019, out of which 192.5 million are cattle, including 81.4 million adult female cattle, according to the statistics from the National Dairy Development Board. The bovine population increased to 305.5 million in 2021 and is estimated to reach 306.7 million in 2022. The cattle need to be managed efficiently and should be economically and environmentally sustainable through the use of innovative technologies. The latest example of the technologies in the domain of milking technology is given by an IIM-Ahmedabad working paper named GAU (Gai Adharit Unnati), which is the facial recognition of cows to be utilised as a biometric to get their information.
The paper also highlights some interesting facts, including the fact that cow dung from two cows can generate enough biogas to cook three meals a day for a family of four, including two adults and two children. According to the same paper, India’s 300+ million cattle population can produce ~18 million metric tons (MMT) of bio-CNG per year, along with providing 200 MMT of biofertilizer per year.
Gaudhan includes the products of cow dung and cow urine. In a recent event organised by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University, cow urine was used to produce hydrogen, as demonstrated through a set-up at AKTU in Lucknow. Cow dung can also be used to make vermicompost, along with biogas. According to Dr. Ranvir Singh, Senior Scientist, Animal Genetics Division, Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI)-ICAR, Bareilly “Even with the cow that is not giving any rupee milk, up to Rs 20,000 can also be earned by making organic manure (vermicompost, etc.)”
The government of India has launched several schemes to develop an economy based on gaushalas by enabling the commercial use of cow dung and cow urine. The GOBAR-Dhan scheme was launched by the government of India in April 2018 for biodegradable waste management under the Swachh Bharat mission. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has continued the National Bioenergy Programme for the period of FY 2021–22 to FY 2026–27. The programme provides 20% higher central financial assistance for setting up bioenergy projects for the generation of biogas and compressed biogas if they are based in gaushala.
Muni Seva Ashram: A Case Study of Sustainable Institutions
The Muni Seva Ashram is located in Goraj village, 35 kilometres east of Vadodara. The Ashram was set up by M. Anuben Thakkar in 1978. It consists of hospitals, an orphanage, schools, a senior home, a home for disabled women, and gaushalas. The organic farm of the ashram is spread across 1000 acres and is used by the local farmers. There are three gaushalas and one heifer-rearing centre in Muni Seva Ashram. The gaushalas at the Ashram have around 700 cows, which include Gir and Kankrej cows, indigenous breeds of India. The gaushalas were set up to preserve the indigenous germplasm and provide wholesome milk to the patients, students, staff, visitors, and locals
The ashram established biogas plants to convert organic waste into clean energy as part of its efforts to become more sustainable. The ashram has biogas plants at two of its gaushalas and at the Green Campus in Vankuva. The biogas generated in these plants is used as fuel for ashram vehicles and as cooking fuel in the ashram’s community kitchens. Apart from the two biogas plants at the gaushalas, the ashram also set up a 430-cubic-metre biogas plant fueled by cow dung, chicken litter, kitchen waste, and press mud from sugar mills. The biogas produced at this plant is enriched by scrubbing and bottled under pressure. This compressed natural gas, or bio-CNG, is used to fuel the ashram’s guest house kitchen.
Muni Seva Ashram is a perfect model of a circular economy. It is a self-sufficient entity that produces 90% of its own requirements within the walls of the ashram. The late APJ Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, visited the ashram and stated that every village in India must take the example of the ashram and become self-sufficient and sustainable. Muni Seva Ashram is an example of how gaushalas can become self-sufficient and sustainable by setting up biogas plants. Gaushalas can take advantage of government schemes to get financial assistance in setting up biogas plants on their premises. Gaushalas can not only meet their energy needs with biogas plants, but they can also become profitable by selling biogas and organic fertiliser and help build the nation by reducing fossil fuel imports.