“Radha, bring some firewood and dung cakes while returning from school. Be safe while doing all this in the forest,” said her mother.
The above conversation explains the process of drudgery. The process of using firewood and making dung cakes is common in poor households for cooking. These ingredients are not only lethal for our lungs and our surroundings but also jeopardizes the safety of women and girls.
In India, the poor have limited access to cooking gas (LPG). The spread of LPG cylinders has been predominantly in the urban and semi-urban areas covering the middle class and affluent households.
But there are momentous health hazards associated with these fossil fuels. For example, indoor pollution, as chulhas release toxic gases like carbon monoxide and dioxide into the atmosphere causing adverse impacts on the health of family members and the environment.
The earlier solution to this problem was introduced in the 1980s, smokeless chulhas, under the National Program on Improved Chulha. This was aided by training programs for making and maintaining such chulhas. Eventually, these measures failed when subsidies were withdrawn, people couldn’t get convinced about using the new chulhas and did not participate in targeting beneficiaries.
The Indian Government then introduced Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for LPG in June 2013 under the PAHAL SCHEME on an experimental basis. Access to this sterile energy was expected to alleviate the public health burden posed by household air pollution on women. According to Hoyle, this scheme would improve women’s access to education, leisure, labour markets and the environment, climate and human health.
With a clean slate in 2016, the Modi Government launched the LPG scheme as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMYU). The Ujjwala scheme has benefited 8 crores households and will be extended to cover 1 crore more beneficiaries according to the 91st Union Budget of 2021–22.
According to the Ujjwala 2.0, 100 more districts will be amplified in the next 3 years to the City Gas Distribution network. A gas pipeline project will be taken up in Jammu and Kashmir. Under this, migrants will not be mandated to submit ration cards or address proof.
However, many LPG dwellers were found to be still using firewood because every refill is very expensive for them and they can’t afford it.
Official data show that 48% of rural households use LPG partially. The government is trying to give the poor the castles in the air and having a cold shoulder towards their problems which is totally beyond the pale. Poor people like a dead duck even sell their LPG cylinders to meet their needs.
LPG works well, but only for non-poor households. Others need affordable alternatives to choose from such as solar energy and solar cookers, biogas plants and electric cookers where the electricity is cheap. There’s not a single solution or a De Rigueur to this problem. We all need to hit the ground running and stop flashing in the pan of this scheme. Women of poor households need our support.
Let’s use our gift of the gab and leave no stone unturned for them. Here we are standing united for all the women out there. Till then let’s find a healthy way to cook.