Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 8. 2022
Integrated development is a new prerequisite in a rapidly progressing country like India. Increasing carbon emissions and pollution levels due to various industrial activities is an environmental challenge confronting India with varying intensity. There are many government schemes that now require a new light to function in alignment with the cross-sectional development approach where the country’s sustainable development goals are met. The Mid-day meal scheme, now known as PM Poshan scheme is one such scheme which is also one of the strongest panaceas for improving the poor health standards of students belonging to the economically weaker sections. While this scheme is running in both urban and rural India, its relevance is highly appreciated on the sustainability front of community development. Currently, around 11.80 crore children in all, in 11.20 lakh government and government-aided schools are at the receiving end of the PM Poshan scheme. Although the scheme is primarily observed from the point of view of nutritional health, a less highlighted aspect is the issue of indoor air pollution that is caused due to improper ventilation in the mid-day meal kitchens. This is a major concern for the cooks preparing the food in the rural context wherein there is availability of multiple fuel options for the same.
While the poor ventilation conditions are a problem in all kinds of fuels used for cooking in mid-day meal kitchens, the situations are much worse if the fuels are biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, crop residues, and dung) and coal. In eastern states like Jharkhand, wherein coal is readily available to be utilized as a fuel in the cooking activities in the government schools, this problem of indoor air pollution is of high concern. According to many studies on rural communities, it has been ascertained that around 80% of the rural households and cooking areas use biomass and coal as fuel woods in the kitchens. As understood scientifically, biomass burning leads to the emission of high concentrations of many health-damaging pollutants. Amongst these, carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM) are evident indicators of air pollution and communicate the hazardous impact of pollutants in biomass smoke. According to the scientific studies conducted in rural areas, it was found that the average indoor concentration of CO was 1.8±0.4ppm, for NO, it was 0.12±0.06ppm, for NO2, it was 0.09±0.02ppm, and for SO2, it was 0.06±0.01ppm whereas PM10 was found to be 0.0287 ppm. This arises an alarming condition for the residents and people associated with cooking in such environments. In addition to them, it also affects the children when they are served food in such kitchens itself. However, prolonged exposure to these conditions is impactful in a strong manner such that there is a high risk of chronic breathing and skin diseases. Therefore, apart from environmental concerns, there is also an epidemiological side of this issue which needs to be addressed.
When such issues are raised in the community, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects can be designed to improvise the conditions. It is with this vision that corporates are now entering into the domain and replacing the poor-ventilated mid-day meal kitchens with the ones that are scientifically correct to cook meals for the students without having an adverse impact on the health of the workers as well as reduced levels of air pollution. In addition, the improved cooking systems reduce the carbon footprint, thereby driving climate action at the micro-level. An arrangement similar to ‘green-belt’ is also deployed around these corrected infrastructures to help abate the carbon released and sequestrate carbon for long-term benefits. These projects are of huge relevance in the rural communities due to the use of conventional cooking fuels and less awareness of the issues caused by the same. Therefore, corporates and industries are now making sure that CSR funding is utilised for well-formulated projects with meaningful entry and exit strategies. Thus, it is made sure that the implemented projects sustain even after the executing team exits from the respective project area. To ensure this, a sustainability strategy is designed, and the target beneficiaries are sensitized to the measures to maintain the facilities provided to them.
Such projects are an integrated approach addressing the ‘E’ (Environment) and ‘S’ (Social) components of the ESG frameworks under industries and function towards overall sustainability. These projects are also in direct accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are tapping multiple SDGs such as SDG-2 (zero hunger), SDG-3 (good health and well-being), SDG-7 (affordable and clean energy) and SDG-13 (climate action). The design and implementation of these projects are also aligned well with the national climate action commitments at various international platforms and our agendas for 2030 and 2070, especially the ‘panchamrita’ declaration at the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26). Moreover, there are multiple schemes and programs initiated by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to promote the extended agenda of the Poshan scheme in terms of reducing carbon footprint.
Therefore, addressing multiple issues and a wide range of beneficiaries is only possible if the designated CSR funding is utilized in such integrated developmental projects as CSR can be an effective tool for mitigating major issues such as climate change. It is the duty of corporations to redress climate change through environment-friendly manufacturing techniques, adoption of a green, transparent policy and environmental disclosure along with the direct well-being of the associated communities. Undoubtedly, CSR projects have now become the extension of ‘green theory’, a novel thinking which articulates the concern for people’s rights, justice, citizenship, good governance and the environment.
(Ms. Apoorva Bamal is a Research Associate, and Dr Amit Kumar Thakur is a Senior Fellow and Head of CSR at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi. The authors would like to acknowledge the CSR initiative of Nippon Life India Asset Management Limited in the state of Jharkhand to address the issue of unsustainable mid-day meal kitchens at various schools and improvise the same via its integrated approach of sustainable development CSR project in the area.) ■□■