Crunching numbers

Published: Thursday 15 May 2003

-- (Credit: EMKAY)Numbers often speak a lot. Sample these. In the ten years between 1991-2001, the number of households in India having toilets within the premises increased by a whopping 95 per cent -- from 36 million in 1991 to about 70 million in 2001.

At first glance, this statistic might seem a cause for celebration for many government departments. But the just-released census report of 2001 reveals other disturbing data. "In 2001, more than three out of five households were bereft of latrine facility within the house," it reveals. And the numbers of such homes have also increased considerably -- from 115 million in 1991 to 122 million in 2001.

Figures on the availability of drinking water tell a similar story. In 2001, approximately only one out of three households, or 36.7 per cent of houses, had access to a tap as a source of drinking water. This, despite the fact that the number of residences having taps increased by 44.5 per cent -- from 49 million in 1991 to 70 million in 2001.

The census reveals that 64 per cent of houses had a kitchen within the premises. As far as the fuel used for cooking is concerned, firewood topped the list, with 52.5 per cent of households using it. Another 10 per cent and 9.8 per cent of homes used crop residue and cow-dung cake respectively, as the sources of energy for cooking. This indicates that despite the progress in the energy sector, biomass is still used as cooking fuel by more than 70 per cent of households across the country.

The census figures have also brought out the disparity in the use of liquefied petroleum gas (lpg) and kerosene oil for cooking purposes. The Union government has heavily subsidised these fuels for a long time. But statistics prove that the subsidy is not reaching those it is meant for. While only 5.7 per cent of households in rural areas use lpg for cooking, a whopping 48 percent in urban areas use the gas. Again, only 1.6 per cent of homes in rural areas use kerosene oil for cooking, while the number is 19.2 per cent for urban areas. "Subsidies do not reach the segment of population they are actually meant for," says S P Sethi, advisor (energy), Planning Commission. Another case of misdirected subsidy and faulty government policies. "It is common knowledge that the poorest people pay some of the highest tariffs for energy," Sethi adds.

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