Rasoi Ghar - Community Kitchen


Sanjha Chulla

We would like to take you for a moment back to the not-so-recent past. Village women used to gather at a common place after sunset to cook their food. Together, they used to bring their grains, vegetables, masalas and necessary utensils to a huge tandoor in the middle of an aangan or in a public place such as the chaupal, where they would cook their meals before taking their food back to their respective homes. This social gathering place was known as the sanjha chulla.Back in those days, our grandfathers lived much more harmoniously, with a much more profound understanding of the community spirit. The intrinsic strength of that tightly knit social fabric was reflected in the operations of a sanjha chulla. In spite of different castes, women used to come together to cook, gossip and share family matters. Indeed, they themselves used to behave like members of the same family.

Rasoi Ghar

Literally translated as 'cooking room', the Rasoi Ghar™ is a community kitchen shared by several households of one village- a modern version of the traditional sanjha chulla. Centrally located in a target cluster of a selected village, the Rasoi Ghar is a ready kitchen set up in a pucca house, allowing several villagers at a time to cook their daily meals comfortably, safely and quickly. Each rasoi ghar is equipped with an adequate water supply; a cooking slab; basic cooking utensils and a minimum of 2 stoves connected to replaceable LPG cylinders.

The concept of the Rasoi Ghar was a strategic component of the HPCL effort to extend LPG use throughout rural households in India. The costs of setting up each Rasoi Ghar is covered by HPCL, with users being charged an average of Rs.4/hour to meet the refill costs of a cylinder- a cheaper daily alternative to having an individual LPG connection installed in ones home.

The modern cooking fuel of LPG represents a welcome alternative to traditional fuels still used by the vast majority of rural Indian households today. These traditional fuels pose a number of disadvantages, burning inefficiently and in a manner that is difficult to control. Collection of traditional fuel is also arduous and time-consuming, with the average villager spending a significant portion of time and income in securing daily energy requirements- 90% of which is used for cooking purposes. As it stands, 80% of rural India reportedly face difficulty in obtainingsufficient cooking fuel.

Currently, fuel wood provides for over half of India's rural household energy, which also greatly aggravates the problem of deforestation. According to the 'Wood Consumption Study' of the Forest Survey of India, Nagpur, the firewood consumption of an average household of 4 people is 4 kg, or about 10 small trees. This totals an average household usage of around 300 trees a month, or 3600 trees a year. If only 10 women were to switch to cooking in a Rasoi Ghar, this would help save the deforestation of some 36 000 trees a year. In a joint collaborative effort between HPCL and the Forest Department of the State of Maharashtra,Rasoi Ghars were introduced explicitly to counter the problem of deforestation in the district of Yavatmal, which houses some 800-900 households as well as the 900 sq.km. large Pandharkawad Forest. With 100 Rasoi Ghars operating in the Pandharkawada Forest Division, around 36 lakh trees will be saved from destruction every year- a reduction that will substantially improve the efforts of forest cover development.

The burning of traditional fuels such as wood and dung cakes releases hazardous chemicals including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxides. With cooking spaces often poorly ventilated, exposure to these fumes heightens the risk of respiratory diseases. A particularly lethal by-product of burning firewood is carcinogen benzopyrene, a cancer-causing substance. In a study sponsored by the World Health Organisation, Indian women who regularly used firewood for cooking purposes were found to inhale the same amount of carcinogen benzopyrene as if they were to smoke 20 packets of cigarettes a day.7 In contrast, gas fuels such as LPG burn much more efficiently than solid fuels and release far fewer contaminants

The Process

Based on survey of the rural areas, villages of at least 400 households are targeted, within which at least 10-12 households are from the R3/R4 sectors. Since villagers generally settle in clusters , the Gram Panchyat or the community is required to provide a suitable site that would be central to the targeted cluster.Approximately 5-6 intensive visits are required in order to successfully establish a Rasoi Ghar in a village. After the Gram Panchyat is approached, the concept is then introduced to the community at large. Once the community has expressed interest in establishing a Rasoi Ghar, a caretaker from the community is appointed to manage and maintain its operations. This is normally formed from an already-existing Self Help Group or, selected from nominated village members.

Rasoi Ghar… a tool for Behavioral Change

Certainly, the Rasoi Ghar presents a significant paradigm shift for the average village woman- to move from cooking on the floor with a traditional chulla to using a gas stove on a raised platform. In effect, the concept of the Rasoi Ghar creates dissonance between the village woman's basic food needs and her behavioral norms. As such, several approaches were employed in order to effect appropriate behavioral change. For instance, the women are advised on safety issues and several safety reminders are displayed on the walls of the Rasoi Ghar itself. Naturally, many are distrustful of what is unfamiliar.

HPCL…A Responsible Corporate Citizen

HPCL has achieved its goal of providing clean, safe and efficient fuel to numerous rural Indian households. The concept has also been extended to hospitals, temples, chungi nakas and truck parking areas. Along with the company's collaborative efforts with the Forest Department of Maharashtra mentioned above, HPCL is also partnering with several other government departments to support their existing projects. An example is the integration of rasoi ghars in the government-run 'Midday Meal Scheme', providing freshly cooked lunches for schoolchildren across the country. The positive experience of the Rasoi Ghar pilot served to direct the operations of subsequent up-scaling, to the extent that HPCL Rasoi Ghars are now operational in over 850 villages, benefiting over 13 000 families.Upon successfully converting rasoi ghar users into individual clients with their own LPG connections, the existing Rasoi Ghar may then be dismantled and its infrastructure shifted to introduce the project in yet another village. Current plans are to oversee the establishment of Rasoi Ghars throughout the country, reaching some 80 000 villages and effectively expanding the HPCL LPG network across rural India, bringing with it attendant patterns of behavioral changes among its ruralconsumers.