Exposure to air pollution has important consequences for public health. Several studies have held that a major source of air pollution exposure in rural India is the use of solid fuels, such as dung cakes and wood, for cooking and heating. High levels of indoor air pollution can kill infants, get in the way of healthy child development, and contribute to heart and lung disease.
In May 2016, the Indian government launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which aims to promote the use of clean cooking fuel in rural India. Reducing the use of solid fuels is an important public health goal because it would reduce exposure to harmful indoor air pollution. The central government claimed that by December 2018, 6 crore households had received access to LPG through the Ujjwala Yojana, and that 90% of all Indian households owned an LPG cylinder and stove.
An important question to be asking is how successful have these government initiatives been in reducing solid fuel use in rural India? This article addresses this question using data from a 2018 survey on fuel use which revisited households originally visited in 2014 in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
We find that that Ujjwala has led to a substantial increase in LPG ownership among rural households in the sample states. About three-quarters of households reported owning LPG at the time of the survey, up from about one-third in 2014. This is an important improvement. However, we also find that many LPG owners, and particularly those that received cylinders through Ujjwala, still use solid fuels to cook. Most LPG owners also own a stove that uses solid fuel, and among households owning both, about three-quarters of households used solid fuels the day before the survey. 37% used both LPG and solid fuels, and 36% cooked everything using solid fuels.
Although the Ujjwala Yojana has substantially increased access to LPG, many households that have LPG continue to use solid fuels, and these household behaviours have important implications for the potential health impacts of Ujjwala. Households that continue to use solid fuels continue to expose themselves and their neighbours to harmful air pollution. Discouraging the use of solid fuels and promoting exclusive LPG use will be essential to realizing the full health benefits of the expansion in LPG ownership brought about by Ujjwala.
Read the paper here.