Rural households in northern Karnataka still continue cooking in the traditional method that is on chulha by utilizing solid biomass. The burning of this biomass gives out fumes that are injurious to health. Adding to it the current government scheme of providing free LPG connections to BPL populations doesn’t seem to reach the masses.
The northern parts of Karnataka such as Ron taluk have a wide range of people using chulha to cook food despite having access to other safe energy sources for cooking.
“We use cylinders only to boil some vegetables and rice. All other dishes are cooked on the chulha, as they taste better than those cooked on gas,” said 22-year-old Kalpana, who lives in Hirehal village of Ron taluk.
On a hot and humid day, Kalpana enters the kitchen which suffocates due to lack of ventilation. She then proceeds to light the chulha with firewood and burn all the plastic waste in the house along with it. “We don’t dump plastic outside our house, as cows and other animals suffocate on consuming it. It is therefore better to burn it while cooking,” said Kalpana, who did not seem to know how dangerous plastic smoke is, to the human body.
Hirehal is a village situated 10 km away from Ron taluk, in Gadag district of Karnataka.
Plastic emits toxic chemicals when burned, which affects the lungs adversely.
Kalpana and her family has owned a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder for the past 15 years. Still, they are more comfortable cooking meals through traditional methods like those using chulhas.
“We are following the traditional method of preparing meals on chulha, since decades. Food cooked on chulha has a much better taste than that cooked on stove. Even during large gatherings like weddings and reunions, we cook dishes on chulhas, and not on gas, as it is less expensive,” said Kalpana.
Muttapa, 57-year-old father of Kalpana, said, “While buying the cylinder (to use an alternative energy), I thought that it would be a one-time payment. Paying for the stove, then for the electricity bill, then again for refilling the cylinders, and later for the transportation of the cylinder, is too long a cycle ad too much of an effort to cook on a stove.”
He went on to explain how women in their families have always been cooking on chulhas. “The aroma and taste of food cooked on our handmade chulha and clay utensils are better,” he added, shooing away flies in the room.
The entire room filled up with smoke in half an hour as Kalpana prepared roti for the upcoming festival. Neighbouring households in the village did not even have fans in their rooms, because of which all the smoke would inevitably be trapped in the room.
The state government had earlier launched a Mukhya Mantri Anila Bhagya Yojane scheme, wherein free LPG connection will be provided to all BPL families. The scheme aims to target 15-20 lakh beneficiaries in the state.
LPG centers in the taluk
The official website of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme states that the government has released more than three crore LPG connections to BPL populations covering 712 districts across the country.
But how many of these households use LPG for all cooking purposes and refills it regularly?
Rural population is more than three crore in Karnataka alone, according to the NITI Aayog statistics.
In Ron taluk, there are three LPG cylinder distributors that cater to a population of more than two lakh. Out of them, only 15,621 have gas connections, according to data collected from these distributors.
The number of BPL households in Ron taluk (which has 93 villages and a population of more than two lakh with 53,348 households, as per the 2011 census), that have managed to access the government schemes that provide free LPG cylinders, is just 4,030. Aadhaar card, ration card, and bank account details are the documents needed to access free cylinders under this scheme.
There are two ways to buy cylinders, for BPL card holders. One is to take it under the government scheme and the other is to buy it by paying Rs 3,700, explains Basavraj, an LPG distributor associated with Indian Oil Corporation.
“There is a big issue in the required procedure formulated by the government scheme. It says that the people and households registered under the 2011 census are the only ones who can avail such schemes. There are thousands of people who have left from joint families after the census took place and are not registered in 2011 census as a nuclear family. The government has asked to use the 2011 census for the distribution of cylinders under the scheme” said Basavraj.
It takes about a week to complete the process of supplying cylinders to customers under the scheme if they have submitted all the documents, says the supplier.
There are large numbers of people waiting to avail the benefits of the scheme, but the government is not aware of them, as they are not on paper.
A Bharat Gas Petroleum distributor in Ron taluk, Ashok, who supplies cylinders to 12 villages of the taluk, says, “There are many people who produce fake documents to avail the scheme. When the documents don’t get verified, they are caught. A large number of people who are not registered under 2011 census are neglected. We have to deny cylinders to them on a daily basis”.
The price of refilling a cylinder once it is exhausted is Rs. 770. Customers who avail cylinders under government scheme are expected to pay for the refill on their own. They find it difficult to pay this amount and would rather use cheap firewood to cook food.
“The villagers don’t immediately refill their cylinder once it is exhausted as they are still using chulhas. They are hesitant to pay Rs. 770 for a refill as they see it as a huge amount to pay on a monthly basis. We reject the applications of 80% of the people who apply under the government scheme as they either don’t have proper documents or their names are not listed in the 2011 census. Most of the times their names are not listed in the census” said Mohantesh, manager of Bharat Gas Petroleum.
There are large numbers of people waiting to avail the scheme but they do not exist for the government as they are not on the paper. The refill of these cylinders is not subsidized by the government which is another reason behind the less number of refills.
Difficulties in accessing the Ujjwala scheme
According to the Hirehal village panchayat, 65% and 35% of the people in the village with a population of more than 10,000 use chulhas and cylinders respectively.
Gangaama who lives in the neighbourhood applied for a cylinder under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana scheme, where free cylinders are given to Below Poverty Line (BPL) population. She had applied for the cylinder many weeks ago, but has not received any update regarding it.
People living in Holealur village in the taluk have been waiting for cylinders for over three months now. Many households living in the lane are facing the same problem.
“We have been visiting the supplier’s office and panchayat for a long time now, to check on the delivery of the cylinders we have applied for. But there has been no relief. Our names have appeared in the list of members eligible for cylinders issued to BPL populations, but the suppliers are handing it to people who bribe them for faster delivery” said Sharnamma, who lives in a rented house.
The villagers claim that they have been cheated by suppliers who prioritize the people who bribe.
Traditional form of cooking
Households in the village use different types of wood for lighting the chulha. Some buy the ‘sarkari wood’ sold by some vendors, while others use the stems of neem plants. Unknown trees grown on the border of the farm are also used in chulha.
“I have been cooking on chulhas since I was in school; it burns my eyes every time the smoke fills the room. When we blow the fire with the tool, we start coughing, which has become normal for us now,” says Gangama, who got married four years ago.
“Women who cook on chulhas do cough and get tears in their eyes by sitting in front of the chulha for a long time. But then there is nothing new in that, and it has not seriously affected affected our health,” says Muttapa pleasingly, adding that his family has been following the traditional method of cooking.
Having cylinders and using it is not the only problem with the government’s push to spread awareness of using cylinders in the right manner. There are many other issues with the scheme and the use of cylinders.
Some of the villagers in Harihal did not receive cylinders despite completing the process to avail cylinders under the Ujjwala scheme. There are many people in the taluk who did not receive it and claim that it shows corruption in the panchayat.
The census of India 2011 says that 86.7% of the rural households in India depend on solid biomass like wood as a primary source for cooking.
Almost every household in the village has a chulha made of clay in their kitchen. The main reason for using chulha, as per most of the villagers, was to boil water and cook rice.
The smoke emitted from chulhas directly effects women who are cooking the food, as well as other members in the house, especially children, who are exposed to it.
Other ecologically friendly gases such as biogas, produced from Gobar gas, are no longer used in the villages. Also, people have no knowledge of the advantages of solar cookers in these areas.
The health of villagers in taluk hospitals
Dr. M D Patil, Taluk Health Officer (THO), threw light on how government subsidized schemes are making people more careless regarding their health.
“In my 20 years of service I have seen an increase in the number of lung diseases in the taluk. Women who cook on chulha are four times more prone to get the respiratory disease” he said.
There has been an upsurge in past three years in the number of Asthma patients in the government hospital. In the years 2015, 2016 and 2017, there were 83, 190 and 244 recorded cases of Asthma respectively, shared the health officer. Asthma patients are restricted from using chulha and are suggested to use stoves with LPG cylinders by doctors.
“There are many cases of cough in the Public Health Centres (PHC), as people in the village even burn plastic on chulha, which further worsen their condition. Plastic smoke is very dangerous as it is poisonous, and can lead to cancer. But it is tough to make people understand this as the literacy rate is also low here,” Dr. Patil added.
The government hospital also witnessed a huge growth in the number of patients with bronchitis, another severe lung disease. In 2015, there were 42 patients suffering from bronchitis. In 2016 it increased to 350 and in 2017 to 440 patients. Cases of lung diseases are increasing at a very high pace in the villages of Ron taluk, observes THO.
“We suggest alternative cooking methods every time we treat patients with lung disease. But these people don’t implement such methods as it is very costly” added the health officer.