Six in ten Indian households were using LPG as their primary source of fuel for cooking in 2020-21, but there was a large gap between urban and rural areas.
Over a third of households in India still relied on firewood as their primary source of cooking fuel in 2020-21, data from the Multiple Indicator Survey (NSS Round 78), released by the National Sample Survey Office shows. The share varied considerably across rural and urban areas. In rural areas, almost half (47 percent) of households were relying on firewood for cooking, while in urban areas, this share was only 6.5 percent.
Sixty-two percent of households across India were using Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) in 2020-21 as their primary fuel for cooking. In urban areas, LPG was the primary source of energy for 89 percent of households, while in rural areas, 49.4 percent households were using LPG as their primary cooking fuel.
Solid fuels include firewood, crop residue, dung cake, kerosene, coke and charcoal and release smoke and toxic fumes when burnt. In contrast, LPG, other natural gas, gobar gas, other biogas, electricity (including generated by solar/ wind power generators) and solar cookers are considered clean fuels.
Household air pollution caused by burning solid fuels contributed to one-third of deaths attributable to air pollution in the country in 2019, a Lancet study published in 2020 estimated. Indoor pollution is a large cause of child mortality as well, contributing to half of all child deaths from Acute Respiratory Infections, a leading cause of child deaths in India. As CEDA has previously noted, household air pollution (HAP) was responsible for the premature deaths of an estimated 606,900 Indians in 2019. That is higher than the number of deaths due to tuberculosis (0.4 million), and similar to the number of deaths caused by strokes (0.7 million) in the same year.
India has made notable progress on improving household access to clean fuel in the last decade. The percentage of households using firewood as primary cooking fuel fell from three-fourths of all rural households in 2009-10 to half of all rural households by 2020-21. However, inequalities across class, caste and region in the use of clean fuel persist.
Only 30.6 percent households in Chhattisgarh used LPG as the primary fuel for cooking in 2020-21, the lowest among all states. More than two in three households in the state continued to depend on solid fuels for cooking. In Odisha too, a similar share (67.7 percent) relied on solid fuels. In fact, there were eleven states across the country where less than half of all households used LPG as their primary fuel (Figure 2). On the other end, Chandigarh, Telangana and Puducherry had some of the highest shares of households using LPG for cooking.
In 2016, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) was launched with the aim to make clean cooking fuel available to “rural and deprived households who otherwise rely on traditional and unsafe cooking fuels”. Under the scheme, the government provides a one-time cash assistance of INR 1,600 to below poverty line households to get an upfront LPG gas connection. Along with this, under the revamped version of the scheme launched in 2021 (Ujjwala 2.0), the households are provided the first refill and stove free. Since 2022, the government has also started a targeted subsidy of INR 200 per cylinder for up to 12 cylinders per year to bring down the monthly cost of the fuel.
There is a significant gap between the figures reported by the NSS Round 78 and the data shared on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana website which pinned the coverage of LPG fuel in India at 99.8 percent as of April 01, 2021, up from 62 percent in 2016. While increasing access to LPG connections is essential, it may not always lead to increased use of cleaner fuel, a likely reason why there is discrepancy between the two numbers. Research by Gould and Urpelainen (2018) suggests that provision of LPG connection doesn’t necessarily translate into actual usage of the cleaner fuel in place of unclean fuels. The cost of both the LPG connection and the monthly refills are significant barriers to the adoption of cleaner LPG fuel in India.
While Ujjwala 2.0 claims to address the upfront connection cost, the price of LPG cylinders has been on a significant rise in the past few years. The price of a domestic 14.2kg cylinder (see Figure 3) has risen from INR 581.5 in May 2020 to INR 1,103 currently. Beneficiaries are required to pay the full cylinder price upfront and they receive the subsidy only after the receipt of the cylinder, making access to the cylinders difficult for those with limited means. While the price of LPG has been on the rise, real wages in rural areas have remained stagnant in recent years (Dreze, 2023).
Four out of five households in the richest income quintile had access to LPG fuel in 2020-21, but this was true for only half of the households in the bottom two quintiles, data from the NSS Round 78 shows. Further, while three out of every four dominant caste households reported using LPG as their primary fuel, only 53.3 percent of those from Scheduled Caste (SC) communities reported the same. Among Scheduled Tribe (ST) households, only 31.6 percent were using LPG as their primary fuel source, and two-third households relied on firewood in 2020-21.
Moreover, in 2021-22, the average refilling rate of cylinders for PMUY beneficiaries was only 3.66 cylinders in a year, highlighting the low usage of the clean fuel among PMUY users. Research has also found that ‘fuel stacking’, or the simultaneous use of both clean and unclean fuels by households is a norm in the country. For instance, a study using the Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity – Survey of States (ACCESS Survey), 2014-15 found that only 4% of LPG owning households used the fuel exclusively, and a majority of Indian households used a combination of LPG and solid fuels for cooking purposes.
This is Part 2 in our series looking at household access to basic infrastructure and facilities based on findings from the NSS Round 78. In Part I, we looked at access to piped drinking water.
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