More than 80 million Ujjwala connections have been distributed already, and the Union Budget 2021 has extended the scheme to an additional 10 million people. But a considerable section of the beneficiaries fails to sustain the use of LPG as cooking fuel exclusively. This must change.
India's success in the clean energy transition will only be ensured if it targets the rural population well in time.
Prime Minister Modi recently launched Ujjwala 2.0 through which beneficiaries will get the first refill and a hotplate free of cost along with the LPG (liquified petroleum gas) connections. This becomes significant in the context that India is the world’s third-largest energy-consuming country.
Our energy use has doubled since 2000, with 80 per cent of demand still fulfilled by coal, oil, and solid biomass. On a per-capita basis, India’s energy use and emissions are less than half the world average. Achieving sustainable development goal-7 on Clean and Sustainable Energy remains a challenge.
With about 65 per cent of Indian households being highly energy-deprived, energy poverty is an issue that demands immediate attention to deal with its associated socio-economic problems. According to data available at ‘Our World in Data’, India’s per capita energy consumption is a staggering 6,924 kilowatt hour (kWh) while the world average is about 21,027 kWh, over three times higher.
Furthermore, there lies a vast gap between rural and urban energy consumption as well. Whereas the Household Energy Poverty Index (HEPI) in urban India is 2.1, the index for rural India is 3.1. The statistics suggest that the substantial rural population lacks adequate electric power supply and clean energy fuel in India, resulting in dependence upon unsustainable energy sources that affect both the health and the environment. This differentiation between urban and rural areas also goes against the principles of energy equity and justice.
Providing affordable and reliable energy to each household in the nation can be vital to social security and environmental conservation, and economic equity. Additionally, the tangible health benefits of consuming modern energy are essential for the well-being of citizens.
With these objectives, Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana has made deep inroads to increase access to cleaner fuels in many deprived sections of the Indian population. Ujjwala is one of the prominent schemes that aim to bridge this gap of energy consumption within the country and, in comparison, to the world three times higher than India.
Ujjwala programme seeks to replace biomass consumption (coal, firewood, crop residue, lignite) and kerosene with a cleaner alternative LPG, hence increasing energy per capita in the under-privileged households. With the initiative having various marginalised sections as its target groups, Ujjwala yojana can be successful in alleviating the situation of energy poverty in the country.
More than 80 million Ujjwala connections have been distributed already, and the Union Budget 2021 has extended the scheme for additional 10 million people. This will further increase access and bring India closer to ensure energy security for its citizens.
Although the Ujjwala scheme and similar Saubhagya Yojana have made substantial strides to generate energy security in large parts of the population, challenges prevail to create a robust energy distribution system.
While the scheme has increased access to cleaner energy and led to women empowerment, prevailing data suggests that more needs to be done in India’s quest to remove energy poverty. Ujjwala scheme’s accessibility can be utilised positively to increase clean energy consumption at the household level.
Though the initiative is unprecedented in assuring clean and affordable fuel even in these marginalised groups, the policy’s strategy to ensure regular LPG usage needs to be revisited.
A considerable section of the PMUY beneficiaries though given a connection, fail to sustain the use of LPG as cooking fuel exclusively. Affordability alone is not the factor for less usage, as evident by the recent trends. Low-income families have used only 60 per cent of the 240 million free cooking gas refills offered by the government in six months during the last year’s lockdown phase.
According to a survey done by the Indian Oil Corporation, around 36 per cent of those who have not availed of free refills had used the advance for some other purpose. In comparison, another 40 per cent were frugal users and didn’t have an empty cylinder at home to order a refill. Even when it was offered for free, this lower intake suggests other issues like a lack of awareness of clean cooking fuel benefits.
Fuel stacking, i.e., using multiple fuels by a single household, is a significant challenge to eradicate energy poverty via Ujjwala. Looking at the data of Nature Energy, out of the total PMUY beneficiaries, 56 per cent utilize biomass as cooking fuel with LPG.
Fuel stacking is the major cause for restricted refilling LPG cylinders under the country’s scheme. The key reasons for the issue are the net increase in household expenditure due to shifting from traditional fuel to LPG, fuel prices, incompetence of the PDS system, lack of education, women’s involvement in fuel selection, accessibility.
However, a survey of states by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) also reveals that the median monthly per household expenditure of households that buy traditional fuels (INR 563) was more than that of households that relied exclusively on LPG (INR 385). This suggests that conventional fuels may not be as easy and cheap as it is perceived to be.
So, where does the solution lie? The successful implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission and its different level of implementation tells us something important. Open defecation free (ODF) campaigns (1.0 to 2.0), the government’s initiatives have been targeted at building the proper sanitation infrastructure and behavioural change campaigns at a priority level in the ODF campaigns.
The Prime Minister himself became the communicator-in-chief, and numerous celebrities were roped in from different walks of life. A similar approach can be adapted to handle the behavioural challenge of shifting to cleaner fuels. The factor of women empowerment through enabling them to use LPG needs more emphasis in the campaigns.
There have been states where LPG exclusive users have increased in the last couple of years. For example, in West Bengal, it is 44 per cent, Bihar 23 per cent, and in Jharkhand, it is 18 per cent. There needs to be a study to understand the factors which led to success in these states.
For Mamta Devi of Sitamarhi district in Bihar, the elements that made her the exclusive LPG user are related to social prestige and empowerment. Earlier, using LPG was more of a privilege available only to upper-class families. But when she got Ujjwala connection, she felt empowered and her social prestige increased. This is the reason she makes sure that they use only LPG for cooking.
The concern of accessibility is also something that needs to be addressed. LPG collection centres are sometimes not available in all villages at a regular level. Experiences from the ‘community service centres’ (CSCs) can be utilized while increasing LPG availability in Indian villages.
But another challenge of the lack of financial resources needs the government’s active support, which can either give income support (through DBT) or provide subsidies to the Ujjwala users.
With missions like Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat, etc., the focus is on urban areas. But India’s success in the clean energy transition will only be ensured if it targets the rural population well in time. India’s soul still lives in villages, both literally and metaphorically.
Nagpure is Head, Air Pollution and Sustainable Cities, WRI India. Jha recently graduated with a Masters of Public Policy from Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, Germany. Khandelwal is a biotechnology student at Amity University and an aspiring science journalist. Views are personal.