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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

Firewood scarce, while hunger remains burning

Raghbir Singh Brar  Faridkot, March 04, 2013
First Published: 00:10 IST(4/3/2013) | Last Updated: 00:12 IST(4/3/2013)

Firewood, basic kitchen fuel resource of the poor, has gone scarce; and meals are harder to prepare in modest homes.

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Only a small number of poor people have cooking gas and the majority burns reeds, weeds, dry branches, and dung cakes every day in the kitchen. All folks of the household, including women, children and old men walk miles all day to gather wood for fuel.

Because firewood also warms their bathwater when the weather is cold, the demand triples in winter and the hunt becomes more strenuous. Fossil fuel also causes indoor environment pollution and gives health problems to the women who blow pipes to fire the earthen stove.

Dry firewood is hard to get, since hardly any thickets remain. Dung cakes cost Rs. 3 a piece, and dry firewood cost Rs. 700 a quintal on the market. “The situation is very serious in the villages, where less than 25% households have liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),” said Mohar Singh Gill, a villager of Sirsari. “We cook food on fire produced by burning either dung cakes or gathered dry wood.”

Only 50 of the 200 Dalit households in the village have cooking-gas connection. Kerosene oil is available to a small number of people.

Firewood expensive; plastic now being burnt

“In cities, the poor have improvised water heaters that burn firewood and dung cakes,” said Rajinder Jassal of Kotkapura. “Now people also burn polythene bags and other plastic waste after firewood has become expensive. We know it causes pollution but if we don't burn plastic, it will block the sewers, as streets are not cleaned regularly and the municipalities don't know how to manage this waste.”

Less cotton, less reed

When the LPG is inaccessible and kerosene is available in small quantity to only a few, even crop residue and dung are in short supply, and anyway, these are poor-quality fuel. Most people in the Malwa region use cotton plants as cooking fuel after plucking but now even the area under cotton has shrunk to accommodate paddy.

Less cattle, less dung

The low wholesale price of milk and higher input cost had reduced the number of cattle, so even dung is not produced much. Whatever little is made is consumed as farm manure.

Biogas for lucky few
To build biomass plants, farmers need to have at least 4 cattle heads and some spare space. “Cotton, if its cultivation is encouraged, can not only save subsoil water but also provide many with fuel. The government should at least introduce subsidy on Bt cotton to bring more area under it,” said Sukha, a young man from Niamiwala village.

Trees being chopped, stolen

The demand for firewood is also taking a toll on the environment, because trees are being cut for it and smoke is being produced. Trees planted along canals are beuing stolen and uprooted when these are small and shed leaves in winter. “It has reduced the green cover,” said Chamkaur Singh, a teacher in Faridkot district.

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