By Gyan Pathak
Majority of Indian kitchens do not have access to clean cooking energy. We have been worst in the world, and are still so. There are many programmes to trumpet, but government fails to provide a full clean energy security cover to over half of the population. In 2015, the population without access to clean cooking was 85.3 crore, over 27 crore from China. We have been successful in giving access to only a few crore people since then. Obviously, the speed is not enough, requiring an intensive set of actions and policies lowering costs and ease of having energy in times of need.
It has now been clear that the goal to provide clean energy to all household by 2030, as set by MDG, may not be possible for India if the government does not speed up the programmes and come forward with more sustainable programmes than the LPG for which we are largely dependent of imports and the cost too is unpredictable. There are other options too, that are cleaner and cost effective, as already suggested in various papers of the Nity Aayog and other organizations, which the government need to explore. One of the papers of Nity Aayog even suggested that electricity is one of them, but the problem is most of the rural areas are being supplied a low quality electricity that is sufficient only to run fans and lighting. However, it had recommended a shift in the urban areas in favour of electricity use in the kitchens, and sending the saved LPGs in the rural households in large numbers. Solar energy has been suggested as support. Nevertheless, it will need huge investment, which our government is unable to do in the present scenario of steep economic slowdown.
Presently, various fuels and technologies are meeting cooking energy demands. Traditional cooking fuels have very low energy content per unit weight. Moreover, it needs a considerable amount of time per day for fuel gathering and causes household air pollution threatening the inhabitant’s health. A recent paper of ADBI says that more than 67 per cent of energy for cooking in India is supplied by traditional sources like firewood, crop residue, cow dung cake, coal, lignite, and charcoal. Another three per cent are using Kerosene. We dream to develop like Japan, another Asian country, that saves the time and health of their people by providing clean energy to the whole population. Only 0.1 per cent people are using unclean energy source like coal. Others use City Gas, LPG or Electricity.
We are therefore not able to save our people from the attendant health hazards of using unclean cooking energy. Neck ache, headache, backache, bruises, burning eyes, coughing, and even wild animals and snake encounters are being reported during traditional fuel gathering. The additional health issues include ischaemic hearth disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease for adults, and acute lower respiratory for children.
India is focusing on LPG in meeting cooking energy demand over biomass. However, it also has pros and cons. Since LPG production is a function of the global petroleum cycle and market, it makes us dependent on others at the cost they decide us to give. It cannot be sustainable is the long run and its cost will remain volatile. India, thus needs to explore renewable sources for clean cooking including biogas, solar, and bioethanol. A WHO study of 2018 had observed that LPG has been the main option for clean cooking policies in India since 1970s.
By investing US $ 4.6 billion in the LPG infrastructure, the Modi government aimed to provide LPG to 95 per cent of household by 2019, the year which is now coming to an end but the dream is not likely to be realized. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) is managing the PAHAL scheme under which subsidy amount is deposited in the account of connection holder. However, direct transfer of subsidy in the rural areas still poses challenges due to lack of banking infrastructure and limited familiarity of consumers with cashless subsidy transfers.
PM Ujjawala Yojna supported 20 million connections out of total 32.2 million new ones. As a result, it has been claimed, LPG penetration reached to 86 per cent. The support was for the first cylinder, and the cost to the consumer was actually loan amount to be paid by the used in due course of time. However, the second LPG refill is not receiving support under this programme. The paper of the ADBI has claimed that the refilling of the LPG cylinder is not affordable for most of the household below poverty line in India.
MoPNG launched the “Give it up” or “Giveback” scheme in 2016. They asked households with high incomes to give up their subsidies for LPG voluntarily. As a result of this program, almost 10 million households agreed to give up their subsidies. Ujjwala Plus Scheme is an ongoing program by MoPNG in India, which was started in August 2017. This program aims to provide free LPG connections for low-income households. It works by asking high-income households (that have already given up their LPG subsidies) to provide free LPG connections for neighboring families who cannot afford the connections. The result is not up to our expectation.
SAHAJ launched in 2015 to make the application for new LPG connection easier by providing for online applications. Nevertheless, due to lack of access to internet connections and lack of skills for making online applications by households in rural area, this program is facing some challenges in these areas. The number of registered domestic LPG consumers in 2017 reached 235 million, from 94 million in 2007.
The clean cooking programs in India are not limited to LPG. Some of the programs were working on improved biomass cookstoves (ICS). The National Programme on Improved Chulhas (NPIC) started in April 1986, and 35 million ICS were distributed in 16 years. After finishing NPIC in 2002, research and development (R&D) on improving ICS continued using public investments. The Unnat Chulha Abhiyan (UCA) scheme stated a target of 2.75 million ICS in 2014–2017. However, only 1% of UCA’s target was achieved.
In the long run, the results of studies in India Energy Security Scenarios (IESS) showed that 20% of India’s population in rural areas will use traditional biomass for cooking in 2047. Taking this number into the calculations, US$1.2 billion of investment will be necessary to provide ICS for them. The National Biogas and Manure Management Program (NBMMP) has been acting as the main supportive scheme for promoting biogas in India since 1981. This program achieved 55% of its target for deployment in 2016–2017.
Demand for piped natural gas in India would reach almost 1.26 million standard cubic meters in 2030, from around 0.24 million standard cubic meters in 2017. The total investment need in India’s natural gas sector will be US$100 billion by 2022. (IPA Service)