A flagship programme under the aegis of the Central government and established as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is a much-feted policy. It has garnered praise in the WHO pollution report just last month, even as 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 & Natural Gas, was put into place in 2016 with the express aim of providing clean fuel, i.e. LPG connections, to households that fall under the BPL in the country. What’s more, the connections would be established in the names of the women only – a much-lauded aspect and a radical idea proposed by the policy, to say the least. The policy’s official website is a daunting showcase of the success of the scheme over two years, its Media Kit link will leave any researcher suitably impressed.
But for the stories on the ground.
Many of which we found in Chatarpur district’s Ikara village, in Madhya Pradesh, Bundelkhand, where a largely Adivasi population resides. Speaking to the so-called entitled women of this village, you’d think the policy was never formed. Traditional cooking techniques are still followed here, evidence of which lies on the walls and floors of the homes. Manta tells us of 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 speaks of how she awaits the gas connection she’s been hearing about, “Abhi nikla nahi cylinder hamara”, she says, and adds, “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, where actual entitlements are missing. Here are 60-odd families in a 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 5 lakh deaths in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels. These include deaths caused because of diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other heart and lung related diseases. When we visit 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 has a million excuses for us. After she’s done with the usual “will-be-done-in15-days” response, she blames the families that have been travelling out of the village on weddings, and have missed out on the connections.
Meanwhile, in February this year, the Union Cabinet approved an additional allocation of 4,800 crores to the Ujjwala Yojana, in another much-lauded, ambitious-sounding effort to scale up the connection from 5 to 8 crores by the end of 2019. Perhaps Manta and her sisterhood in Ikara need to wait it out some more. Until then, black lungs and black walls continue to be their fate.
This article first appeared on The Wire.