Cool reception to ambitious programme

Cool reception to ambitious programme IN DURGAPUR village in Haryana, about 200 improved chulhas were installed in 1986-87. Within a few months, almost all of them were dismantled by the women. Asks Chameli, one of the beneficiaries, "Who has the patience or the time to chop the wood into small pieces to suit the new chulhas? First we did away with the dampers and then we did away with the new chulhas altogether and went back to our old chulhas." Kishen Dei of Sillagarh village in the state, who cooks for a 16-member household, says cooking takes longer on the new chulha.

Many users have totally rejected the national programme on improved chulhas (NPIC) of the ministry of non-conventional energy sources (MNES). The programme has been marred by the government"s insensitivity to local needs and fuel-using habits, its cutting down on subsidies, its top-down approach and the lack of training for users.

MNES claims it installed 479,000 improved chulhas between April and October 1993, against a target of 360,000, effecting an annual saving of 335,000 tonnes of fuelwood worth Rs 19 crore. According to a survey of the NPIC by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), submitted to MNES in July 1993, the targets for installation of improved chulhas was exceeded by an average of 19 per cent every year from April 1988 to March 1992. The report says 61 per cent of the chulhas are in "working condition".

However, senior MNES officials admit the programme -- on which Rs 80 crore has been invested between 1985-86 and 1992-93 -- has been a failure and claims of fuelwood saving are exaggerated.

A major factor in the programme is subsidy. The NCAER report points out that the installation of 88 per cent of the chulhas was subsidised by the government. However, in 1992-93, MNES withdrew financial support to the 22 technical back-up units (TBUs), which are vital to the programme. MNES wanted the state governments to take over the financing and monitoring of the TBUs. But ministry sources say this has happened only in some states such as Gujarat and Orissa, (check how many states) because the state governments themselves face a financial crunch.

According to Rachel George, head of the home management department of M S University in Vadodara, "The TBUs played a key role in meaningful implementation of the programme in many parts of the country. Reduction in MNES support has dealt a blow to many of these units." Says Lalita Balakrishnan, chairperson of the rural energy department of the All India Women"s Conference -- one of the non-governmental organisations implementing the improved chulha programme nationwide, "The withdrawal of support to the TBUs leaves us with nowhere to go when we face even minor technical problems in the field."
Subsidy to users Additionally, the ministry has reduced subsidy to users in 1993-94 and has decided to phase it out completely by April 1995. Feroza Mehrotra, director of Haryana"s department of women and child development -- a nodal implementing agency -- says, "Reduction in Union government subsidy would mean a setback to the programme. Most of the women beneficiaries do not have purchasing power. Even the Rs 20 charged now is too much for them." Says Balakrishnan, "Subsidies cannot be done away with in a programme of this nature. The cost of chulha installation cannot be footed by the non-governmental organisations nor can this be recovered fully from the beneficiaries who are poor rural women."

Dissemination of knowledge, which is crucial to the success of the programme, has also been lacking. "The disseminator should be a local woman who uses a chulha herself, is accepted by the members of her community and who has some time to spare from household chores. The users should feel the need for an improved cooking device," according to Madhu Sarin, an architect and development expert who was closely associated with the efforts of women in Nada and Sukhomajri villages of Haryana to design a chulha that suited their needs.Top-down approach
Sarin is critical of the government"s top-down approach in promoting chulhas. "The government selects, tests and adapts models in the laboratories and designates them for propagation in the villages. There is no participation by the rural women in designing the chulha they have to use everyday," she says.

Sarin cites the example of a village in Punjab, where 38 per cent of the chulhas were bigger than necessary and 67 per cent were too high. One woman had reduced the height of her chulha from two feet to eight inches and modified all its dimensions.

The NCAER study shows that 45 per cent of the alterations made are to widen the opening at the front. In the two-pot type chulha, the women block the passage between the first and second chamber and use only one pot for cooking, thus reducing efficiency and filling the room with smoke.

"Planners of the programme forget that building a good chulha and using one are two entirely different things. And, a good chulha maker may not be the best person to train the people in using it," according to Sarin. In their desperation to meet targets, the implementing agencies often neglected training. The quality of training was inadequate, misdirected and more an administrative formality. The entire focus was on making a chulha rather than on understanding its mechanics so that it could be adapted, maintained and repaired without supervision.

In the early stages of the programme, the ministry relied entirely on subsidies and concentrated on meeting targets, instead of ensuring a judicious mix of education, technical training and financial assistance. As such, quality was often sacrificed. According to P S S Gussain, secretary of the Consortium for Rural Technology in Delhi, "Subsidies can function well as an initial promotional device, but only if they are coupled with very strict quality control measures."

Mehrotra says, "The main reason for the programme not getting full acceptance has been a lack of quality control, in terms of the chimney pipes for the fixed chulhas and metal portable chulhas. Quality control is the cornerstone for any programme that seeks to win over the people"s confidence." Her department"s insistence on quality has ensured that manufacturers now supply more durable pipes and thermally efficient portable chulhas.

In Gujarat, the TBU has promoted a technology that is more durable and reliable than in other states. Says George, "Decentralised production of standardised pottery liners could increase the durability of chulhas. Though this could increase the cost by about 22 per cent, it may be a better way to win user acceptability because the user pays for and owns an efficient device, rather than a handcrafted one that may not live up to expectations, or one that the user may be tempted to alter."

However, the MNES is determined to phase out its support to the programme. The onus of making chulhas and distributing them in rural areas is likely to fall on entrepreneurs. Despite the evidence to the contrary, MNES is of the opinion that subsidies will not be required because there is a ready market for chulhas and entrepreneurs can easily cover their costs.

The government has reduced subsidies for beneficiaries and implementing agencies in the national programme for improved    chulhas and increased it for entrepreneurs.

Type of chulha

  Approved cost  

  Central assitance per chulha  upto 1992-93

  For 1993-94

1. To beneficiaries


Unit cost beneficiary"s minimum contribution of Rs 5 (maximum   Rs 50) 50%(maximum Rs 50)
  Portable Rs 75-188 50% (maximum Rs 50)

75% for SC/ST/Hilly areas (maximum Rs75)

33%(maximum Rs 50)    

    50% (maximum Rs 75)               

2. To implementing agenices
Organisational/infrastructural support to states/agenices Rs 5 Nil
Transort and handlung charges Rs 4 Nil
Publicity and awareness

Rs 2

User"s education Rs 1 Nil
3. To self-employed chulha entrepreneurs (for installation)
  Fixes Rs 10-plain areas Rs 20
  Chulha Rs 15-hilly areas Rs 20
Portable chulha Rs 5 Rs 5

Source: Ministry of Non-conventioal Energy Sources.