New Delhi: The National Geographic channel will air a 44-minute documentary early next month about the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, a government programme that aims to provide free cooking gas connections to poor families.

With the scheme said to have contributed to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in March 2017, its ambit has been expanded to include 80 million poor families in the countdown to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “Given the expanse of the unique programme, National Geographic got interested in making a documentary," a senior oil ministry official said, requesting anonymity. Queries emailed to an oil ministry spokesman remained unanswered.

The programme, launched on 1 May 2016, aims to safeguard the health of women and children. While the clean fuel protects them from the hazards of inhaling smoke, it also helps the poor avoid going to unsafe areas to collect firewood. As on 22 April, 30.6 million households got access to cooking gas under the scheme covering 712 districts.

While approximately 2.52 million people died due to pollution in India each year, household pollution resulting from the burning of biomass chulha (stove) is a major contributor to this statistic, said Swati Mohan, business head, National Geographic and Fox Networks Group India.

The documentary film features four women and the transformation in their lives after the introduction of the LPG cylinder. It will highlight stories about field workers and volunteers educating people about the advantages of switching to LPG. The Nat Geo team has documented stories across the country, including in the Kashmir Valley, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

“The documentary focuses on the need for accessible clean energy in every household in the country, and explores how initiatives on cleaner cooking fuel have transformed the lives of many in the country. The attempt was to showcase the lives of the women and children who are most affected and bear the consequences of cooking with biomass," Mohan said.

The Ujjwala scheme provides financial support of Rs1,600 for each cooking gas connection to eligible households. The connections are given in the name of the women heads of the households.

Experts say that Ujjwala’s narrative gels well with National Geographic’s positioning in a crowded media landscape. “National Geographic is a purist when it comes to infotainment," said Debarpita Banerjee, president, north and east, at advertising agency FCB Ulka. “It truly believes in creating content around education and exploration and has done documentaries that do justice to these content pillars irrespective of whether the source is a government-driven programme or an NGO."

National Geographic has worked on multiple documentary projects of various ministries and government bodies including Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd, ministry of AYUSH, Indian Naval Academy, ministry of home affairs, government of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh tourism board, Assam Tourism Development Corporation and ministry of tourism (Incredible India campaign) among others.

The Ujjwala scheme has been gaining traction. Mint reported on 6 March that increased use of cooking gas may shrink the incidence of tuberculosis in India, based on the statistics from the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) on TB prevalence.

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