Barriers to access, adoption and sustained use of cleaner fuels among low income households: An exploratory study from Delhi and Jharkhand, India
This report was released by Asar Social Impact Advisors, a Karnataka-based research organisation, in August 2023. It was authored by Vidyuth Sreenivasan, Neha Saigal and Saumya Shrivastava at Asar.
Household air pollution remains a major health hazard for women in low-income households in India, many of whom continue to use biomass for cooking and heating. Transition to cleaner fuels like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and their sustained use remains a challenge for a significant proportion of low-income households in India. This is despite the government’s efforts to improve the coverage of LPG through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY).
The study forming the basis of this report was conducted in Delhi as well as Lohardaga and Senha blocks in Jharkhand, to understand the barriers to women’s access, adoption and sustained use of clean cooking fuels. It focused on low-income households and recorded their perceptions around household air pollution and its impacts on women’s health. The report proposes recommendations at community, district and state level to address the issue and enable transition to clean cooking.
The report notes that the Indian government issued several new connections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, meeting 99.8 per cent of the target of releasing eight crore LPG connections to deprived households by April 1, 2021. The number increased to almost 9.5 crore by January 2023.
The study found that fuel usage patterns differ across notified and non-notified bastis in Delhi based on their socio-economic contexts, access to basic services and access to different fuels. Women in non-notified bastis in Delhi primarily used biomass for chulha burning whereas those in notified bastis used LPG as primary fuel but supplemented it with biomass.
In rural Jharkhand women with jobs and regular incomes used LPG as primary fuel, while those without regular incomes mainly used biomass. Ease of use was noted to be more important than ease of access, when making a choice between different fuel types across all the study areas.
The perceptions around the benefits and challenges associated with different fuels play an important role in people’s fuel choices. While the respondent women acknowledged that LPG is faster and easier to use, it was also considered expensive. Similarly, women shared that the food cooked on chulha is considered tastier and healthier compared to food cooked using LPG. LPG was also considered unsafe as women had heard of accidents involving gas cylinders. However, women acknowledged barriers around different forms of biomass and recognised the benefits of LPG, which could aid awareness and communication drives.
The report finds that social networks and personal relations are trusted sources of information across the notified and non-notified bastis in Delhi as well as rural Jharkhand. These can be leveraged for campaigns to enable transition to cleaner cooking fuels.
Household air pollution was not a familiar concept for the women interviewed and they did not equate smoke from chulhas to pollution. There was also a lack of awareness on the adverse, long-term health impacts of household air pollution and women believed that hard work made them impervious to any health ailment.
There are many systemic and procedural barriers in accessing, adopting and using LPG on a regular basis, the report notes. These include inability to furnish required documents to apply for a connection, difficulty in filling application forms, slow processing of applications and poor grievance redressal.
High prices of LPG cylinder refills during the time of the study (especially after withdrawal of the government subsidy in 2020) made LPG unaffordable to several low-income households. Further difficulties existed in having to pay for it in one-go as a lump sum amount. Due to the high prices, many respondents had reverted to using biomass for cooking despite having LPG connections.
Focus and Factoids by Saumya Shrivastava.
Vidyuth Sreenivasan, Neha Saigal and Saumya Shrivastava
Asar Social Impact Advisors, India