Are India’s urban poor using clean cooking fuel?
With increased urbanisation, India is experiencing acute air pollution in its urban centres. Slum-dwellers are doubly affected, both by the higher concentration of particulate matter in urban areas as well as indoor air pollution from the use of unclean cooking fuels. With more than 13.7 million people living in slums in country (Census 2011), there is a strong impetus to understand the use of clean cooking fuels in such households.
Existing literature on energy access and use in slums across developing countries assume that energy infrastructure is available in these settlements as they are situated in urban environments (Butera et al. 2016). Household air pollution (HAP) has an estimated average contribution of 30–50% to ambient air quality across India’s urban and rural areas (Balakrishnan et al. 2019). Addressing biomass burning for cooking, water heating, and space heating during the winter has the potential to help reach the national ambient air quality standards (Chowdhury et al. 2019).
However, our analysis shows that a large share of these households do not have access to clean fuels due to lack of affordability or patchy supply. In this brief, we discuss access to clean cooking energy in urban slums across six states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh). These states have a low socio-demographic index and a high disease burden due to air pollution (Balakrishnan et al. 2019).
The findings of this brief are based on a primary survey conducted in rural areas and urban slums in these states – Cooking Energy Access Survey 20201. The analysis focusses on the fuel use patterns of households, the extent of use of LPG and solid fuels, fuel stacking behaviour, and the primary cook’s perception of various cooking fuels and their health impacts.
1. Households using LPG as their only fuel
While most urban slum households have an LPG connection, exclusive use of LPG is limited to just over half of the total households. The household’s economic status (measured through asset ownership) and their access to doorstep delivery of LPG refills are two critical factors that determine their ability to use LPG exclusively. We found that households with higher asset ownership have significantly higher odds of using LPG as an exclusive fuel.
2. Households stacking LPG with polluting fuels
Although schemes like Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) have helped increase LPG adoption, this has not resulted in the complete replacement of biomass-based fuels. Despite 86% of households having an LPG connection, the data shows that over a third of slum households are stacking with polluting fuels (including firewood, dung cakes, agricultural residue, charcoal, and kerosene). Most of these households use polluting fuels daily or at least weekly, which increases their exposure to household air pollution.
Among the households stacking LPG with polluting fuels, the reasons for stacking vary: Affordability, free-of-cost availability of biomass, seasonality, and taste preferences. Across asset quintiles, we find that stacking is highest among the middle categories (second and third quintile), though most households in these categories have adopted LPG. Still, the affordability of the fuel remains a significant concern. One-fourth of households who are stacking polluting fuels have a median annual refill rate of eight cylinders and above (same as exclusive LPG users), despite having a similar household size as those using LPG exclusively. Most of such households fall in the wealthiest asset quintiles and use a chulha (mud stove) for cooking chapatis or vegetables, suggesting that they are not necessarily using unclean fuels due to the unaffordability of LPG, but due to other factors like taste.
2.1 Non-cooking uses of polluting fuels
Despite using LPG as the primary fuel for their cooking needs, households that stack fuels use polluting fuels for non-cooking purposes like heating water for bathing (29%) and space heating (10%).
2.2 Seasonal variations in fuel use
Most households (88%) use LPG as their primary fuel in the rainy season, while in winters, less than 45% of households do so. The increased use of polluting fuels in winter could be because during these months, the polluting fuel requirement for non-cooking tasks within the household like water heating for bathing and space heating increases – which leads to the increased use of polluting fuels for cooking as well. Unfortunately, the increased use of polluting fuels in winters exposes households to the double burden of high ambient and household air pollution due to unfavourable atmospheric conditions.
3. Households using only polluting fuels
Despite large-scale government initiatives like PMUY, 12% of urban slum households do not use LPG and rely on polluting fuels. While most of these households are aware of PMUY, the high upfront LPG connection cost, along with the high recurring expenditure on refills, deter them from procuring an LPG connection.
While we see a progressive change in households’ energy-use patterns as we move from rural to urban, issues like affordability, availability, preference, seasonality, and the end-uses of the fuel remain essential factors that determine household fuel choice. Understanding user categories and fuel use patterns is crucial in enabling access to and sustained use of clean cooking fuels. Also, it is vital to recognise the implications of cooking being a gendered activity. However, women’s participation in intra-household decision-making regarding LPG use is limited.
Despite being in urban areas, 37% of slum households do not receive home delivery of cylinders - availability is an essential factor that determines the household’s likelihood of using LPG exclusively. To increase LPG use, oil and marketing companies (OMCs) and distributors need to improve home delivery of LPG refills in slum areas.
Emissions from household sources contribute hugely to the surrounding air quality (Harish et al. 2019), which is already poor in congested slum areas. Majority of households cook inside the main house without a chimney indicating high exposure to pollution from the use of unclean fuels for cooking.
Integrate the issue of lack of access to clean cooking energy with urban poverty.
This study reiterates the need to look at poverty in urban areas in the context of energy access. The vulnerability of urban slum-dwellers needs to be accounted for while designing and implementing policies, including social protection schemes. Given the health and economic impacts of pollution, access to clean cooking energy schemes must be integrated with the social assistance programmes of other ministries (e.g., health, education, and nutrition assistance) to better target support for slum households. Government programmes such as the National Urban Livelihoods Mission and social service allocations for housing should use existing targeting approaches to include access to clean cooking energy within their ambit of services for the poor.
The economic impact of Covid-19 will push households into energy poverty, leading to the increased use of free-of-cost biomass – consequently increasing the risk of exposure to emissions from fuel burning. While the government has announced that it will provide up to three free refills under the PM-Garib Kalyan Yojana scheme to all PMUY households, less than a quarter of households in urban slums have Ujjwala connections - effectively making them ineligible for relief support. There is a need to expand the reach of PMUY to cover all slum households.
Bring renewed emphasis on clean cooking during Covid-19
Increased poverty would mean increased use of polluting fuels – there is a need for a renewed emphasis on clean cooking energy access during the Covid-19 pandemic as increased use of polluting fuels has health implications (lower respiratory infections and coronary chronic obstructive disease (COPD) that increase the risk of Covid-19 infections being more severe.
(The study has been authored by Shaily Jha, Sasmita Patnaik, and Rithima Warrier)