IRRITABLE EYES was something 75-year-old Lakshmamma had lived with all her life. This November, she rediscovered the joy of cooking. “The irritation has gone, I started using a gas connection. A smokeless kitchen helps me enjoy the cooking,” she says.
That month, her village Vychakurahalli in Gauribidanur taluka of Karnataka became the first in the country to be designated “smokeless”, with nearly all its houses getting LPG connections. On December 15, Hosur of the same taluka became the first gram panchayat to win that distinction. Located 83 km from Bengaluru, Hosur includes Hosur and Kottala Dinne villages, with a population of 8,000.
The “smokeless” panchayat concept is part of an Indian Oil Corporation corporate social responsibility initiative to make LPG connection available across rural India. It took a week to get LPG to the 2,400 households in the Hosur panchayat, and IOC plans to convert 250 villages in Karnataka to smokelesss villages by March 2016.
A study has shown that cooking the traditional way, using firewood or cow dung, is equivalent to smoking 400 cigarettes a day, says IOC’s Karnataka head S Varadachari.
Along with IOC officials, the local panchayat staff, including the panchayat development officer, visit each house to find out which don’t have LPG connections and convince them to get one, explaining its uses. Village camps are held later, and connections are provided with minimal paperwork, at an all-inclusive cost of Rs 2,000 each.
Hosur was selected for being the birthplace of freedom fighter, educationist and rationalist H N Narasimhaiah, who was popularly known as H N Hosur. The fact that it was selected under the Adarsh Gram initiative for 2016-17 by local MP Veerappa Moily also helped.
Narasimhappa, 52, would see her daughter, 24, wrestle daily with the firewood. “Every morning she would struggle to start the fire and then stand in the smoke to prepare our meals. When she returned from work in the evening, again it took a lot of effort and patience to cook the evening meal, including blowing air into the firewood, and breathing in the smoke.” Narasimhappa was among those to get an LPG connection.
Rangamma Manjunath, who received her LPG connection on December 12, has heard of the harmful effects of using firewood. “LPG prevents in-house pollution,” she says.
At Vychakurahalli, where 221 of the 225 households have got LPG connection, the joy of not having to struggle with firewood is still being felt. Four households were left out as they live in thatched huts, which can’t get LPG as per rules.
Lakshmi Narasamma, a daily wage worker, marvels at how much time she saves. “We are a family of six, including two children. Except the children, all of us work. I would wake up at 5 am, start cooking by 7 am and finish only by 9 am. Now it takes me only an hour to finish,” says the 22-year-old.
Veena, 28, is happy she doesn’t have to fetch firewood every week. “I can spend the time on some other work. Collecting firewood in the rainy season was particularly difficult, and the damp wood would emit a lot more smoke,” she says.
What remains is the soot — covering everything from stove where the firewood was lit and the walls of the kitchen, to the utensils. But that, Hosur knows, can be wiped away more easily.