HPCLs Rasoi Ghar Projectweaning rural areas away from firewoodCooking fuel in rural India is mostly wood which women have to fetch from theforest often spending an hour or more every day.A study undertaken by MART for HPCL in 2003 in 8 states found that the poorcannot afford LPG as the initial connection cost for a 14.2 kg cylinder is Rs 1,600and the refill costs Rs 270. To address the affordability issue HPCL introduced a 5kg cylinder at Rs 95 for a refill and initial connection cost of Rs 800.Simultaneously company dealers were advised to open extension counters in larger villages to make the product available closer to the villagers and the new product was promoted in haats to create awareness. Despite these initiatives sales did not pick up as expected because as a subsequent study found the poor believed that the cylinder was unsafe – it could burst or gas could leak land some felt cooking on gas could cause health problems as gas may get into the stomach! To overcome these myths MART suggested a novel idea of a community kitchen (Rasoi Ghar) where women could experience the benefits of safe, clean and convenient cooking on LPG without having to make a heavy investment in a new LPG connection by bringing their rawmaterials. First and foremost, the idea is to introduce rural households to thisclean, efficient alternate fuel to firewood, expand its usage, and second, toaddress crying health and environment issues stalking the hinterland.On behalf of HPCL, MART has already rolled out over 1,600 community kitchensin 2,000-plus population villages in half-a-dozen States, where women from thepoorer sections can experience the convenience of cooking with LPG in apollution-free environment. The PPP model involves the panchayat donating a small room accessible to the socially and economically backward classes, HPCL contributing gas stoves, LPG cylinders and cooking utensils and a woman from the Self-Help Group (SHG) being appointed as a caretaker. Women bring in their raw material and take back cooked food paying a small fee of Rs 2. The money collected is used to buy refilled cylinder and pay
honorarium to the caretaker. Thus the model is economically viable.By and by, as women understand the safety aspects of LPG and get hooked toeasy cooking, SHGs also set up `kitty schemes where monthly contributionslead to women in turn acquiring their own 5 kg LPG connection. "Once all the women realise the benefit, ease, safety and health aspects of cooking on LPG and the easy finance helps them get their own connection, HPCL will uproot its fixed assets in terms of the community kitchen and move it to the next village for a similar exercise," explains Mr S.V. Shahni, Executive Director, HPCL. In fact, other oil marketing companies have also been askedby the Union Petroleum Minister to join the project and cover as much as theycan of rural India."It is a mammoth task and involves the cooperation of the village panchayat, theSHGs and the community. Weve achieved success wherever SHGs have beeninvolved. And now forest departments, Lions and Rotary clubs are also pitchingin with help," says Mr Shahni. HPCL is spending at an average Rs 8,000 to set upa kitchen for a 20-family community.The concept is also being extended to serve more purposes than one. The draftfor the National Level Programme of Rasoi Ghars includes making the communitykitchen a hub that could do more things than one — cook the mid-day meal forthe local school, double up as a service counter and dealership outlet for thecompany and help augment the caretakers earnings by serving as a tea-cum-kirana store.The project also addresses health and environment issues. A study sponsoredby the World Health Organisation revealed that Indian women who use firewoodregularly for cooking inhale the same amount of carcinogen benzopyrene as ifthey were to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.In terms of deforestation, a study conducted jointly by HPCL and theMaharashtra Forest Department showed that the firewood consumption of a four-member household is around four kilograms a day or about 10 small trees(shrubs). This translates into average household firewood usage of 300 smalltrees a month or 3,600 small trees a year. Shifting women to LPG would takecare of a large part of this deforestation.HPCL Rasoi Ghar won MART the ‘Best Long Term Rural Marketing Gold Awardand the Special Jury Award 2005’ given by Rural Marketing Agencies Associationof India.