Around 57 percent households are still using chulhas. Low consumption of refill of cylinders is also found in the taluk.
Women in Kushtagi taluk can be often seen coughing and squinting due to the smoke coming out of the chulhas while they are cooking food.
Manju shares the problem his wife goes through every time she has to cook food on the chulha for the family. “While cooking, she has to inhale all the smoke that comes out of the chulha. The smoke makes it difficult for her to cook, and she often coughs while cooking. I am worried that this might cause a respiratory disease in her,” says Manju who is a farmer from Madalgatti village in Koppal district.
Manju has a family of four people and earns just enough to provide basic amenities to his family. He works in a farm and comes under Below Poverty Line (BPL). It is impossible for him to afford a gas stove and cylinder which costs around Rs. 1000.
Many houses in Kushtagi taluk of Koppal district in North Karnataka are yet to receive gas stoves even after the launch of Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana (PMUY) by the government in 2016, a scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, launched to distribute 50 million LPG connections to women from BPL households.
Manju said that he applied for the scheme way back but has not received any answer from the authorities. “I had been asking the officials about the gas stove but I never got any clear answer. I have stopped asking them now and my wife still cooks on chulha,” he said.
Manju’s wife is unaware of the consequences of using chulha and the danger associated with the smoke released from them. She says that she does not find any problem in using the chulha and argues that even her ancestors have been cooking on chulhas.
The case of Manju calls for a larger picture of Kushtagi taluk as it is not only Manju’s family going through the crisis but many other families from the taluk.
Mudiyappa Kanagira, a farmer, said, “It has been long that I have applied for the gas stove but no reply has come from the officials. They keep delaying us and since we are poor people, there is nothing much that we can do.”
Another woman from the village, Shivama said, “We have been using chulhas since forever. I know about the scheme launched to provide gas stoves to poor people but I am not sure if I will ever be able to use one. My husband has applied for gas stove and we hope we get rid of the chulhas.”
To solve the issue of using chulhas and the lingering diseases with it, the government launched PMUY to eliminate the use of chulhas, especially from rural India.The scheme provides a financial support of Rs 1600 for each LPG connection to the BPL households, interest free loan to purchase stove and refill by Oil Marketing Companies. It includes a cylinder, pressure regulator, booklet, safety hose, etc. The target of the scheme was to give 5 crore connections to women members of poor households by March 2019 which was later raised to 8 crore by March 2020.
Serious health hazards are associated with cooking based on fossil fuels. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, about 5 lakh deaths in India are alone due to unclean cooking fuels. Most of these premature deaths were due to non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Indoor air pollution is also responsible for a significant number of acute respiratory illnesses in young children.
The Prime Minister, in many of his speeches has addressed that his government has already achieved the mission of free gas connections.In a rally in Aurangabad on September 8, 2019 which addressed a state level empowered women’s meet of self-help groups Modi said, “The promise we took to provide eight crore free gas connections under Ujjwala Yojna was fulfilled today, seven months ahead of the planned date.”
Kushtagi taluk, though, paints a different picture. Data provided by the Tehsildar Office of the taluk showed that there are 53,410 BPL households. Out of the total BPL families, only 22,690 families are beneficiaries of Ujjawala Yojana in the taluk which means that 57.51 per cent of the families are still using chulhas rather than gas stoves.
Many villagers in the taluk are still waiting to receive the gas stoves. Tehsildar of the taluk, Siddesh, said, “We try best to provide everyone with a gas stove. But insufficient supply of gas is also a hindrance in the process. Lack of awareness among villagers is another major challenge. Even the people who receive gas stoves again switch to chulhas. They use chulhas to cook chapatis and other stuff which take longer time to cook.”
Another officer from Tehsildar Office, Anwar said, “Some villagers are resistant in using gas stoves for they fear that it would blast. People need to stop believing in such superstitions.”
Another problem that haunts the scheme is the low consumption of refill of cylinders by people. It has been reported by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that after the consumption of the first free cylinder, people are unable to afford cylinders and eventually switch back to chulhas.
Anwar, a clerk from the Tehsildar Office, said that only 800-900 families apply for refill of cylinders. He said that people use gas stoves for some months, then they again start using chulhas and then after several months they would apply for cylinders. There is no regularity in applications of cylinders.
A report by CAG showed that the average annual refill consumption of 19.3 million consumers who had completed more than one year by the end of March 2018 was only 3.66 million refills. The report emphasized on the regularization of high consumption of refills for maximum benefits of the scheme.
Fahima, a homemaker from Nidasheshi village said, “The people of the village are very poor. In such a condition, they do not have enough funds to refill their cylinders. As a consequence of this, they start using chulhas again.”
Other women also sing the same tune. Mahraj Banu also said that poor people prefer using chulhas rather than spending money on buying or refilling the gas cylinders.
This brings back the problem on the same note that people are still using chulhas instead of gas stoves and poses a big question mark on the benefits of Ujjawala scheme.
The Chief Medical Officer of the taluk, Chandra Kant Mantri explained the deep disadvantages of using wood for cooking. He said, “Every month seven to eight women visit me because of acute respiratory problems. They do not visit hospital until the excessive problem and the disease becomes severe. The villagers are unaware of the problems caused due to the cooking food by wood and deny the fact that the cause of their disease is chulhas. They generally suffer from asthma or bronchitis.”
The unawareness of the disadvantages of using firewood has existed for time immemorial in rural India. Many organizations have come up with alternatives to chulhas. One among them is the smokeless chulhas. A smokeless chulha uses 50 percent less firewood than a traditional chulha. It is designed such that adequate oxygen is supplied in the cooking area continuously which results in 80 percent less smoke and higher temperatures. Therefore less time is spent in cooking and gives women a healthier lifestyle.
Another efficient solution provided is the production of biogas. The cattle dung when mixed with water in a gas plant produces methane which can be used for cooking in villages. The gas produced in the plant can be carried to the houses by a pipeline to the stove and used a normal gas stove. The remaining mass can be used as organic manure. The only problem with the process is the requirement of large quantity of dung.
Experts further explain the problems related to prolonged use of firewood and chulhas. Dr. Shubhangi Goyal, an otolaryngologist said, “The smoke from chulhas directly enters the lungs, food pipe and wind pipe of these women. This causes chronic pulmonary diseases, asthma and sometimes even cancer and tuberculosis in the women using chulhas. Release of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are the cause of this.”
“Villagers do not approach doctors initially because of quite basic symptoms such as coughing. They consult doctors only when it aggravates and causes difficulties such as blood in coughing, breathlessness etc.,” she added.