A new study is trying to find out if, in the wake of the Centre providing free LPG connections, rural households are breaking away from traditional cooking methods such as wood, cow dung or dry grass.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, a scheme by the NDA government, was launched with the aim of providing 5 crore free cooking (LPG) connections to all families below the poverty line. A pilot project has been launched across villages in Junnar taluka of Pune district to assess and enhance the use of the Ujjwala scheme.
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The study will also explore the feasibility of the scheme over the next three years. The project also includes researchers from KEM Hospital, University of California and Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, who are measuring indoor air pollution.
Rural women are forced to breathe in smoke when they use traditional cooking methods in the kitchen. Recently, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had compared open fires in the kitchen to burning 400 cigarettes in 60 minutes. Professor Kirk Smith, director of Global Health and Environment programme, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, who visited various villages in Junnar taluka, told The Indian Express that the study’s focus was on pregnant woman and the measures through which LPG use can be enhanced in rural households.
In his earlier studies, Professor Smith had shown that the highest exposure to air pollutants occurs in rural, indoor settings, where biomass and coal are the principal fuels. He has documented the associated risk for pneumonia and adverse birth outcomes in children, and the risk of cataracts, tuberculosis, heart disease and chronic lung disease in women.
Explaining the objective of the study, researchers said, “Efforts are also being made to enhance access and remove barriers to acquiring fuel. We want to assess whether households, which have been given LPG connections, still use chulhas. What are the logistics of getting them refilled?”
Dr Sudipto Roy, researcher in maternal and child health at KEM Hospital’s Vadu Centre, said almost 200 households would be involved in the study. The households, across villages located near three primary health centres at Junnar, would include three groups, each with 50 pregnant women in their first trimester.
The first group, which has free LPG connections, will be provided a gas burner, but no refill. The second will get 12 free cylinders, while the third group will have a free LPG connection and a burner. A fourth group, comprising newly-married women, will get a free connection and a burner.