Last year, Rajendra Choudhary, 40, a toddy tapper, like many other members of the Pasi community, was devastated to hear that total prohibition in Bihar will make his traditional occupation — tapping fermented palm juice for commercial sale — redundant.
A year on, with the onset of a fresh season this April, Choudhary, a resident of Kariana panchayat under Silao block in Nalanda district of southcentral Bihar, looks to the future with renewed hope.
For, he and a majority of 3,895 male tappers, surveyed for linking them with the proposed supply chain to feed the raw material for the manufacture of ‘neera’ —a pre-fermentation version of palm juice— and allied products, are anxiously waiting for a fresh twist to their livelihood with dignity.
This has been made possible with the state government’s ambitious plan to set up a 10,000-litre per day ‘neera’ processing plant at Biharsharif, for migrating them from toddy tapping to a more remunerative and dignified alternative source of livelihood.
After several trial runs, the Rs 72-lakh project, being set up by Bihar State Milk Co-Operative Federation Ltd (Comfed), is set to start commercial production from April 15. Other than ‘neera’, the plant will be producing allied products like ice cream, cake, cookies, jam, laddu, peda, barfi, gur, taal misri and halwa.
Ten litres of neera is required to produce one kilogram of jaggery.
At the just concluded Bihar Diwas function, litchi flavoured neera and pedas were an instant hit. “However, peda sale had to be rationed within the first half hour as the availability was limited,” said Ramashish Rai, who had to return empty handed after stall managers reserved the remaining quantity for exhibition purpose only.
With 2.5 lakh litres per day neera tapping capacity of over seven lakh palm trees in the district, the murmur for capacity expansion for the first one of the four plants being set up in the state is already on.
- First of the four neera processing plants, at Biharsharif, set for commercial production from April 15
- 10,000 litres of neera and a host of allied products would be produced for sale through Sudha dairy oulets
- Nalanda has the third highest number of palm and date trees after Gaya and Nawada districts
- Members of Pasi community will migrate to a more remunerative and dignified livelihood
“We welcome government and district administration’s move. The capacity will have to be increased to extend the benefit to the maximum number of tappers,” said Harendra Choudhary, district vice president of Akhil Bharatiya Pasi Samaj (ABPS).
The economic spinoff of prohibition, especially for women and children, has been huge. Now, we are trying to rope in toddy tapping families. Till date 2,268 families, out of 7,636, have been included in 54 ‘neera’ producing groups,” said Nalanda district magistrate Thiyagrajan SM.
“These will act as collection points. Training has been imparted and licences will be issued shortly. The idea is to bring all of them into the fold from where they can leverage their traditional skills for improving their lives,” the DM said, hinting things would take a bigger shape with the passage of time.
While the ABPS is pitching in for the payment of Rs 70 per litre of unprocessed ‘neera’, on a daily basis initially, the government has to take a call on its final price, after considering the market dynamics for the product that would be available through Comfed’s Sudha dairy outlets.
Till then, members of the community, having a dominant population in 540 villages of 213 panchayats of Bihar, are waiting for a new dawn in their lives.