Authors: Pradeep Mehta and Shruti Xess
Vol 4. Issue 1. January 2022
The dichotomy of choosing between pollution and poverty has always put India in a difficult situation. Now, when India has promised to be net zero by 2070, one must wonder how they are planning to solve the problem of energy crisis as well as pollution crisis.
For instance, traditional stoves, or Chulhas, have been identified as a source of indoor pollution in rural communities. More than 4 million people have died prematurely as a result of indoor air pollution. Chulhas emit large amounts of smoke, soot, and unburned volatile organic compounds, which can lead to respiratory problems, lung infections, tuberculosis, stillbirth, underweight babies, skin and eye infections, and cardiac problems. Despite the fact that programmes exist to encourage LPG evaluation in impoverished and rural households. 142 million rural families continue to cook using solid fuels (such as wood, cow dung, charcoal, or crop waste), which emit particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hazardous pollutants due to inefficient combustion. Yet it continues to be a very prevalent practice even today.
Even initiatives to promote alternate fuel sources are ineffective; for example, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana provided deposits and installation expenses for LPG cylinders to around 80 million rural women. Families, on the other hand, are need to purchase their own refills at a subsidy price of rupees 800-850. Even if they have Rs. 200 refunds in their account, poor consumers cannot afford it because it is half of their monthly salary. As a result, they continue to use chulhas, or traditional stoves. More than 100 million households are still without LPG, putting them at risk of indoor air pollution. According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, indoor air pollution caused by solid fuel burning affects over 800 million people in India, primarily women, children, and the elderly who spend the majority of their time at home. Women and children spend hours gathering wood, and as a result, they get musculoskeletal ailments. Additionally, the mass collection of firewood may, in the long term, result in forest resource degradation or deforestation.
For that matter, one effective solution would be the distribution of LPG cylinders. However, there are 364 million impoverished people in India who still do not have access to adequate food, making the purchase of an LPG cylinder for 800 rupees out of reach. These relatively high costs underscore why it is difficult to reach the goal all at once. Keeping poverty, indoor pollution, and carbon footprint in mind, a smooth transition to LPG is required. Smokeless stoves, also known as Chulhas, can be encouraged and adopted since they require less wood, generate less smoke, are more energy efficient, are less expensive, and are simple to construct at home.
The smokeless chulha is a box with two chambers, one on top of the other, each containing a burner. The wood is placed in the first chamber's bed, and then it passes through it into the second chamber. The second chamber is connected to a chimney that moves the combustion gas from the stove to the roof of the house, keeping the indoor air clean. While compared to typical stoves' optimum energy output (5-12%), smokeless stoves' optimum energy output (when burning 2-3 kg of fuel) is 28 percent. These stoves burn so hot and cleanly that they barely emit polluting smoke or carbon dioxide. They also cut down on timber use by 40–50%.
Another notable advantage is that, now, women in the village may easily discover alternative livelihood options that they don't have to spend their days collecting wood. This may also increase children’s attendance in school since they don’t have to waste time collecting firewood. This sort of stove is good for both people's health and the environment. The use of a smokeless stove can assist to avoid the cutting of trees and the loss of natural resources.
The Central Himalayan Institute for Nature & Applied Research (CHINAR) promoted smokeless stoves in order to bring excellent health and opportunity, to the people of Bageshwar and Pithoragarh while also protecting the environment. It has constructed 20 low-cost, energy-efficient stoves in Uttarakhand's Namik village, Kapkot block, Pithoragarh district. As a consequence, the women's health improved, they spent less time collecting wood, and it reduced interior pollution while producing more energy than earlier chulhas.
In sum, smokeless stoves are a true treasure for rural homes for they are cost-effective and provide a comparable scent and flavour to meals as traditional stoves, which LPG gas stoves cannot do. It may be a preferable option for those who cannot afford an LPG cylinder and must rely on traditional stoves, as well as those who are sensitive to indoor air pollution caused by fuel burning.