The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the flagship programme under the aegis of the Central government and promoted as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, is a much celebrated policy. It garnered praise in the WHO pollution report just last month, and a National Geographic documentary – chronicling the impact of the yojana on the lives of four women across India – is nearing release.
The scheme, undertaken by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, was launched in 2016 with the express aim of providing clean fuel – LPG connections – to households that fall below the poverty line in the country. Moreover, the connections were to be established only in the names of women – a radical idea and a much-lauded aspect of the proposed policy. The policy’s official website showcases the success of the scheme over two years, with its ‘media kit’ link capable of leaving any researcher suitably impressed.
But when it comes to the ground realities, the story is starkly different, many instances of which can be found in Chatarpur district’s Ikara village, in Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand, where a largely Adivasi population resides.
Speaking to the women of this village, one would think the policy was never formed. Traditional cooking techniques are still followed here, evidence of which lies on the walls and floors of homes.
Manta talked about the “kala dhooan (black smoke)” that dirties her house, and of the long walks she undertakes every day to the jungles of Chaukaha, foraging for firewood.
Laad Kunwaar spoke of how she awaited the gas connection she had been hearing about, “Abhi nikla nahi cylinder hamara”, she said, and added, “jaane kab niklega. (My cylinder hasn’t been sanctioned yet, don’t know when it will happen).”
Perhaps the awareness drives are what call for the real applause with this policy, whereas the actual entitlements are missing. Here are 60-odd families in the remote hamlet of Bundelkhand who have heard of the yojana, but have not yet been covered in the eight-crore connections target slated for the end of 2019.
The WHO estimates that there are approximately five lakh deaths in India solely due to unclean cooking fuels. These include deaths caused due to diseases like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other heart and lung related diseases.
When we visited Kunwar bai, sarpanch of Ikara village, accountable to the many women like her who spend hours and lung power on the chulha, risking their lives and their children’s – who are mostly the ones around when the women cook – she only had a million excuses for us. After she was done with the usual “will be done in 15 days” response, she blamed the families that had been travelling out of the village for weddings, and had missed out on the connections.
Meanwhile, in February this year, the Union cabinet approved an additional allocation of Rs 4,800 crore to the Ujjwala Yojana, in another much-lauded, ambitious-sounding effort to scale up the connection from five to eight crores by the end of 2019.
Perhaps Manta and others like her in Ikara need to wait it out some more. Until then, black lungs and black walls continue to be their fate.
Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.