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reproduced from Economic and Political Weekly.Volume XXI No. 3, January 77 1987

In the last edition of Boiling Point (No. 11) we published an article by Madhu Sarin criticising the Indian National Project on Demonstration of Improved Chulhas (NPDIC) and taken from the Bombay 'Economic and Political Weekly'. We have now received from NPDIC a rejoinder to that article by R.P. Upadhyay, Principal scientific Officer. As promised, we are including this here, complete except for details from states not referred to by Madhu Sarin. As this is not a subject which directly concerns our broad readership and is being aired in the Economic and Political Weekly, we shall not carry any further contributions on the matter.

A careful study of the article 'Improved Chulha Programme Boon or Disaster?. written by Madhu Sarin in your issue of September 20-27, 1986 shows that the opinions of the author will not bear scrutiny. She does not seem to be fully familiar with the philosophy and the methodology of the national programme on improved chulhas. The samples chosen by her are small; nor are they based on any recognised statistical technique.

The total number of chulhas allegedly surveyed by her or her associates like the SUTRA is only 924. In view of the fact that the total number of chulhas installed up to March 31, 1986 was 19.32 lakhs, her sample works out to less than one chulha in nearly 2100. Obviously this is too small and too inadequate to arrive at any realistic ssessment. Furthermore, she has avoided surveying all, or even a majority of the chulhas installed in the blocks she claims to have studied. Table 1 drawn from her own article reveals the inadequancy of her method and the unrepresentativeness of her sample. These statistics need no further comment.

Table1
Name of Block No of Chulhas Number Surveyed Percentage of Chulhas Surveyed
Nallegarh 1160 36 3.10
Sangdaha 1100 27 2.45
Pachad 1100 31 2.81
Solan 1580 18 1.13


Before we go on to discussing in detail the points made by the author in regard to specific states, it seems necessary to point out that:

a. This is a nationwide programme, being implemented by state governments, state nodal agencies and NGO s and not by DNES directly;

b. There are a large number of inaccuracies and factual errors in the observations made by the author;

c. Most of the instances of comparative unsatisfactory performance have been obtained by the aut or from reports prepared quite some time ago by the technical back-up units set up by the DNES itself. Corrective action has been initiated, or finalized, in almost all cases. The data of the author is, therefore, largely out of date;

d. Evaluation, both in-house and through independent organizations, is an on-going component of the programme. Evaluations mace so far by different agencies give a picture quite different from what the author has sought to present;

e. The author has used a highly coloured, overdramatised diction, designed to blow-up minor instances to major proportions; she seems to be fond of criticising for the sake of criticism she uses the techniques of rhetoric rather than analysis;

f. She seems to take umbrage against the fact that since the DNES programme provides for subsidy, it works against the "interest" of some NGO's who want to charge fees for installing the chulhas; and

g. The author seems to be concerned more about the performance of her own model of chulha (nada) rather than the performance of the national programme as a whole. The performance of the nada chulha has not been uniformly good, especially in the initial stages of the Programme. As a result of R and D efforts made by the DNES, the design was optimised some time ago resulting in higher efficiency and better performance. The nada chulha now under implementation is in fact far superior to the initial design propagated by the author of the article.

Here are some specific instances of factual inaccuracies in the statements made by the author:

The DNES is not providing free chulhas to any one. The householder contributes labour, mud, straw and bricks. From April 1, 1986 the householder is also paying a fee of Rs 5 per chulha. From April 1987, the fee is proposed to be raised to Rs 10 per chulha.

The author wrongly states that "a sum of rupees nine crore of public money was set aside" for the chulha programme for the 15-month period April 1, 1984 to March 31, 1985. In fact, the allocation was Rs 5 crore only; the expenditure was even less; it was only Rs 4.34 crore. Against this meagre investment, the achievement was 8.12 lath chulhas and nearly 50,000 trained workers.

The author is quite wrong in claiming that the DNES norms prescribe the payment of a mere Rs 20 per day to the master crartsperson who imparts basic training to rural people in the construction of improved chulhas. In fact, in each training programme of 10 days' duration, a sum of Rs 20 per head per day is paid to the trainees. The master craftsperson/supervisor is paid a lump sum of Rs 1,000 for the 10 day's training course. You will agree that the wages of the master craftsperson are in fact far higher than those paid to the trainees or even to skilled workers in other industries. These high wages have been prescribed to ensure that only the best and the most qualified craftpersons are employed for imparting training.

The author is equally wrong when she says that the trainees trained in the 10-day programme are utilized for imparting further training to other trainees. The fact of the matter is that the trainees who are certified to have passed the training course are utilised only for constructing chulhas in the housholds. They are not intended to be used as trainers. As far as DNES is concerned, only qualified personnel are used as master crafts persons or master trainers.

As regards the selection of trainees, the author is again wrong when she states that the trainees are selected in an arbitrary manner. The trainees are in fact selected by the local implementing agencies (government or NGO) on the basis of information available with the agency regarding willing and unemployed persons available in that area. It is true that there are a certain number of dropouts after each training programme. But this is quite natural in any training or educational programme. The phenomenon of dropouts is neither new or specific to the training programme on improved chulhas. However, sufficient number of trainees remain active in the field and are utilised whenever needed. Some implementing agencies have reduced or even eliminated dropouts by paying the training stipend in two separate instalments, and thus ensuring their availability after the training course is over. Some agencies also have the practice of making an influential person in the village responsible for making the trained persons available for service when required.

The author seems to be completely ignorant of the facts on the ground level when she alleges that high targets are imposed on the states by the DNES and that the states, being in a hurry to implement the target in one way or another, impose the chulhas on an unresisting population. Targets are not determined for targets' sake alone. Targeting is a well known strategy of planning and organisation and management

Let it be understood by all that targets are assigned to the states in consultation with them, and after assessing their capability and previous performance. Let this also be clearly understood that the targets assigned to the states are almost invariably far less than the targets demanded by the states themselves. In fact, the DNES is under constant pressure from the states as well as from other government and non-government agencies to increase the targets. The DNES also receives direct representations from the people in the rural areas asking for more and more chulhas to be installed. This is a measure of the nationwide success and popularity of the programme.

By alleging that chulhas are being forced on the people, the author seems to hold a low opinion of our villagers whom she characterises as "afraid to demolish" the "horrible new chulha out of the fear of being fined", and that they give "false responses out of fear". Obviously, the author places the DNES in a no-win situation: if the responder's reply is negative, it proves that the chulha is not working well; if her reply is positive, it is because of fear. No conclusions can be drawn from surveys conducted with such an attitude of mind.

If the DNES were to give in to the demands for increased targets, the target for every year would be at least two to three times of the target assigned by the DNES. However, in order to ensure quality, the DNES has taken a conscious decision to keep the targets within practical limits. Even so, the achievement from year to year has far outstripped the target, as can be seen from Table 2.

An additional achievement of the programme has been the creation of more than 6,000 smokeless villages - ie, villages where each household has an improved chulha or biogas plant. The number of villages where more than 75 per cent households have improved chulhas would be in the vicinity of 10,000.

The author has claimed that the calculations made by the DNES regarding the saving of fuel as a result of the improved chulha are wrong because: (a) a large number of the chulhas are non-functional; and (b) most of the beneficiaries do not use wood but use agricultural wastes of animal dung in their chulhas.

The studies made by the department's technical units and independent observers show that the author is not correct on either count. It is true that a certain number of chulhas, say 15 per cent to 20 per cent, will always be inoperative due to one reason or another. It is also true that a certain percentage of the beneficiaries use cattle dung and agricultural wastes in addition to wood or to the exclusion of wood. However, the DNES calculations take all these things into account.

Table 2
Period Original Target (Lake Chulhas) Achievement (Lakh Chulhas)
1-1-84 - 31-3-85 5 8-12
1-4-85 - 31-3-86 5 11.20
1-4-86 - 31-3-87 5 3.53
(up to 30 -11-86)


According to extended studies carried out in actual household conditions, the saving from an improved chulha with an efficiency of 20 percent should be around 1,000 kg per year. It may be noted that the laboratory efficiency of some of the approved models is ctually as high as 37 per cent). Keeping in view the fact that overall field efficiency could be lower and that everybody would not be using wood alone, the notional saving has been calculated at the rate of 700-750 kg of wood equivalent per year. Then, while the actual cost of the wood in the market ranges between Re 1 per kg to Re 0.60 per kg, the financial saving has been calculated by the DNES at a notional flat rate of only Re 0.40 per kg. The author's contention that the improved chulhas installed by the DNES are not saving wood because most chulhas do not use wood is wrong. We have calculated the saving of wood equivalent in terms of actual usage. According to the information gathered by various agencies, including the advisory board on energy, householders have reported is much as 50 per cent savings of fuel on account of the improved chulha. However, the DNES calculations have been kept on the Low side to provide a cushion for inequalities and differentials caused by rarious factors.

Lastly, while the savings calculated by the DNES indicate wood equivalent and not wood alone, they do not take into account the oportunity cost and hygienic benefits gained by the householder as a result of the improved chulha.

The author wrongly blames the DNES for specifying a 4 inch chimney for the nada chulha. She should refer to her own letter of February 6, 1984 in which she prescribed
4 inch or 3 inch chimney. The DNES educed the diameter to 3 inch when excessive fuel consumption was resorted with 4 inch chimney.

The author is quite wrong when she says that 20 trainees "have to build only 6 chulhas during a course". The actual number is 60, of 6.

I will now discuss the points raised by the author in regard to some of the states. It must, however, be remembered that the author has confined her "survey" to a small part of a small number of states and union territories in the country. The programme is in force throughout the country, and the areas cited by the author are not truly representative.

Himachal Pradesh

The situation as indicated in the article is far from the truth as ascertained from the state nodal agency. No scheme under the national programme on improved chulha has been awarded to SUTRA by the DNES. The fact is that SUTRA implemented a small programme on improved chulhas in Himachal Pradesh in its own way with funds provided by PDI (People's Action for Development India). In the beginning SWRC (former name of SUTRA) was allocated a training programme by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of Himachal Pradesh on account of that agency's claim of expertise in the art of improved chulha (nada) in consultation with the author herself. But the fact is that this NGO conducted the training and selected 185 trainees by its own method of selection. The state agency or the DNES had no hand in the selection of the trainees or the installation of the chulhas.

As regards the training programme conducted by the implementing agencies under the control of state nodal department in Himachal Pradesh, the duration is 10 days invariably and the training is conducted in 2 phases. During the first phase, trainees are trained in the basic details of construction of improved chulha backed by relevant theory, and the trainees construct the basic form of chulhas under the Supervision of a master craftsperson. (Each trainee constructs a minimum of 3 chulhas). During the second phase, they are again called up after a break of 3 days or so when chulha blocks prepared earlier have dried out. Now the trainees assemble/complete the construction of the improved chulha. This phase takes 3 days. The writer has perhaps quoted only the last 3 days of the training in the second phase as the duration of the entire training course.

Thus DNES, the state nodal agency, and the technical back-un unit at Punjab University, Chandigarh have been regualarly monitoring the programme in Himachal Pradesh and providing all assistance for the success of the programme by way of technical support at block and even village levels. Recently, the technical back-up unit at Punjab University, Chandigarh conducted a feedback survey at villages in Haimachal Pradesh selected randomly through statistical procedures. The results are as follows:
  • District Palampur: Percentage of chulhas working satisfactorily: Over 91 per cent (Dholadhar Model).
  • District Solan: Percentage of chulha working satisfactorily: Over 97 per cent (Nada and Dholadhar Models).
  • Shimla District: Percentage of chulhas working satisfactorily: Over 98 percent (Dholadhar Model).

Retraining has been completed in all the blocks in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana where our surveys showed that the implementation was not of the best quality.

The philosophy of the DNES has always been to promote models suited to local requirements. Specific designs for specific areas and states have been developed and promoted. I want to stress the fact that the DNES is propagating only those chulhas which are acceptable to the users. This is why different designs are used in different parts of the country.

The DNES has a three-tier inspection system:
  1. headquarters officers, including the secretary himself;
  2. state government officers and evaluating agencies and regional officers of the DNES;
  3. technical back-up units.
All 3 are constantly engaged in inspection and evaluation and correction activity. Even so, 3 independent organisations of national repute have been awarded evaluation and impact survey studies of the chulha programme in various states. A proposal to create a team of honorary technical operators to carry out physical inspection of each chulha every month is under consideration of the government.

The brief analysis would show that the author has been somewhat hasty in her conclusions. The national programme on improved chulhas is still in its infancy. It would benefit from constructive criticism based on actual facts and independent, expert observation. It is a pity that a person of Madhu Sarin's standing has chosen to go public with her hastily collected facts and figures. Such an attitude, one fears, will not do any service to a programme whose objectives, according to the author herself, are "admittedly laudable".

Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Thursday October 7, 2010 15:17:22 GMT.
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