New Delhi: Warrior Moms – a collective of mothers from across India fighting for children’s right to breathe clean air – wrote to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to make provisions in the Union budget 2023-24 to make Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) affordable to poor households.
The letter highlighted that millions of households were unable to make the switch to LPG owing to insufficiency of subsidy provided under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna (PMUY) and due to hindrance in obtaining timely refill of cylinders.
In the letter, Warrior Moms also highlighted that 80% of interviewees in a study conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) cited the inability to afford LPG (either due to the cost of the connection or recurring expenses on fuel) as the primary reason for not having an LPG connection in states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Odisha.
The letter to Sitharaman further said it was “disturbing to see the obstacles that women in urban-poor and rural households face due to the exorbitantly priced LPG refills across India. Continued usage of such fuels also has disastrous consequences on their health and well-being. We urge the Government of India to take this into account and raise the subsidy amount well beyond the current extension of Rs 200, along with making the distribution of LPG smoother across the country”.
The letter pointed out that “unable to afford cylinders now priced at over INR 1,100 on average, underprivileged households continue to depend on unclean fuels, like firewood, dung cakes, coal, agricultural residues, and plastic for their daily cooking and water heating needs, resulting in serious health implications (stillbirths, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, growth stagnation, decrease in life expectancy, high infant mortality rates) as burning chulha drastically reduces air quality”.
Household air pollution, a major concern
The group said household air pollution contributes to 30-50% of the ambient air quality in India. Also, it said, over 40% of households in India still don’t have access to clean cooking fuel despite close to universal coverage of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY).
It further added that “this toxic exposure is worsened by the lack of proper ventilation in their small homes exposing women, children and the elderly to the harmful impacts of smoke and household air pollution (HAP).”
As per the Global Burden of Disease study conducted in 2019, it pointed out, HAP is a significant contributor to the total disease burden in India, accounting for nearly 6 lakh deaths.
Premature deaths due to respiratory failure
The letter also noted that over 30% of premature deaths in India are from respiratory failure due to high air pollution, and one in three children in every major city has impaired lungs. Clean cooking would also have a significant impact on overall air pollution and reduce pollution levels, especially in densely populated urban areas, it added.
As such the letter demanded that Sitharaman make provisions in the upcoming 2022-23 Budget for providing LPG connections to households left out of PMUY; make LPG refills affordable at a subsidised rate for all PMUY beneficiaries; and strengthen the LPG distributor network in rural areas. It added that “it is imperative to provide all our underprivileged constituents with heavily subsidised cooking cylinders and refills (targeted subsidies, based on household income)”.
Support from MPs
The demand raised by Warrior Moms has also been endorsed by a large number of members of parliament and prominent citizens. The MPs who have supported the demand include Chandra P Choudhury of All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), Jharkhand; D. Ravikumar of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK); K. Jayakumar, T.N. Prathapan and Shashi Tharoor of Congress; Farooq Abdulla of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference; former Union minister Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); Mahua Maji of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha; Mohammad Basheer of Indian Union Muslim League; Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress; and Nationalist Congress Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan.
Apart from them, the demand has also been endorsed by author and great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Tushar Gandhi; former Patna high court judge Anjana Prakash; social activists Aruna Roy, Mallika Sarabhai and Irom Sharmila; actor Dia Mirza; public health physician Mira Shiva; Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson for Haryana Sarika Verma; and former MPs Rajeev Gowda of Congress and Subhashini Ali of Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Raising the issues of health, particularly among women, arising out of the use of unclean fuel, Warrior Moms had over the past year carried out several surveys and studies and prepared awareness videos on the issue of air pollution.
It had also submitted 5,000 postcards to the minister of petroleum and natural gas, Hardeep Puri, from mothers across the country covering geographies such as Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chennai, and Delhi NCR which urged the government to address the issue of household air pollution by ensuring access and affordability to LPG for all poor households.