While the government claims it has made several people from Telangana’s rural areas switch to clean fuel, people still depend on animal waste fuel to burn their hearths and earn a living.

At a time when the Union government is boasting that six crore people have switched to LPG cylinders or cleaner cooking fuel under its Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), there are a few in Telangana who still make a living by painting the village brown. These are those who have been dependent on cow dung cakes not only to cook but also to put food on the stove.

While the government has been able to facilitate ease of living to around 34 lakh women in Odisha through the Ujjwala scheme, it is the women and children who are mostly involved in selling cow dung cakes in the state. They make Rs 50-100 a day in the trade.

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The family of Manasi, 12, of remote adivasi village in the state, rears cows and she is among 25 children in the village who are part of the cow dung trade there. They say they do this because wood and kerosene supply in the village is short and that leaves them with little option but to depend on animal waste fuel. “Most of the cow dung makers are below poverty line and have no choice but to involve their children in this line of work,” said Sambashiva Rao a human right activist.

These women and children, who are already a vulnerable and exploited group in rural India, have no access to or know how of any other career opportunities.

“I know of no other job. I am not educated and I can’t work anywhere else. That’s why I kept working as a cow dung maker. I have not even heard of the Ujjwala scheme,” said Sabita, 17, who lives in Gond tribe village in Adilabad district.

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Sixteen-year-old Sabi Mandal of a lambada tanda, seconds Sabita while saying, “The cow dung cake helps us earn a precarious livelihood. From early in the morning till sunset, all members of all families are busy working to earn a little money. We make 25 to 50 cow dung cakes in a day and earn around Rs 50 to Rs 100.”

Not just burning it, but even making these cakes affects one’s health. Most cow dung makers suffer from chronic respiratory problems, skin problems and chronic backache.

“I now have knee joint pain from sitting cross-legged for a large part of the day and also find myself unable to breathe at times,” said Bharati, who lives in Gond tribe villag and has been in this trade for years now.

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Although the PMUY is touted as government giving free LPG cylinders to beneficiaries, this is not the case. In bulk purchasing, the government has set the cost of LPG connection as Rs 3,200.

Making cow dung cakes is a traditional activity in rural areas and with the rising of prices of LPG cylinders, many villagers depend on these cakes. It’s not just limited to Dalits. Earlier, just one woman used to make these cakes. But now, many women, even from upper castes, make the cakes, which cost Rs 2 each.

But, what could be worrying is how the country is witnessing a downward trend in animal trade. Incidents of cow vigilantism have reduced the number of cows and buffaloes making their way to animal markets. #KhabarLive