India is a fast-growing nation and one of the major energy consumers in the world occupying the 3rd position in global energy consumption. An important sector where energy is used in abundance is cooking. In India people use various sources for cooking like firewood, coal, biomass fuel like dung cakes, LPG etc. In rural areas firewood and biomass fuel are used as the primary source for cooking. The easy availability of firewood and dung cakes has made them easy choice for rural people. Further they are cheaper compared to other sources and this suits the intensive cooking needs of rural people who have to boil large quantities of water, prepare food for cattle etc on a daily basis. Even though use of sources like firewood have number of disadvantages both for health of people and for the environment, they are used by people of rural areas due to ease of procurement, low cost, lack of awareness about ill effects of use of these sources and because they have become acquainted and are unwilling to accept other alternative sources like LPG.
PMUY is a central government scheme that aims to provide free LPG connections to women belonging to poor households. The scheme launched in 2016 achieved its target of providing 5 crore LPG connections after rapid implementation of scheme. The target was revised and the beneficiaries were increased to 8 crore. This revised target was also achieved well ahead of the targeted time. Government has the aim to universalize LPG connections so that India can completely shift from traditional cooking fuel to clean energy sources like LPG. This shift would help to eliminate health issue faced by women from burning of biomass fuel and firewood. The issue of environment pollution from household emissions will also be addressed by this scheme.
PMUY and its Purpose
PMUY or the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is a government scheme that aims to supply free LPG connections to women below poverty line. It was launched on 1st May 2016 at Ballia in Uttar Pradesh and had the target to provide 5 crore LPG connections to BPL women within 3 years by March 2019. However, in 2018, the target was revised and it was increased to 8 crore LPG connections by March 2020. It is expected that the scheme will be further expanded to include all the households that satisfy the BPL criteria. The scheme derives its funding mainly from savings from digitisation of LPG subsidy and the government launched campaign of “Give it up” which encourages well off customers to give up their subsidised LPG connection. Under the scheme, government provides 1600 rupees subsidy to poor households for LPG gas connection. The monetary support is to address the high entry cost issue in use of LPG. The subsidy which amounts to 50% of total cost needed for a new connection is to make up for security fee for cylinder and the fitting charges. The beneficiary needs to buy cooking stove on her own. However, the government has also kept in place a criterion of monthly instalment or interest free loan that would be recovered from the subsidy for subsequent months if a beneficiary were to opt for the loan in order to buy stove and for the first refill. The scheme also gives another option to the beneficiaries to choose between a 5 kg bottle and 14.2 kg regular LPG cylinder. The scheme takes into account BPL list under the Socio-Economic Caste Census data of 2011.
The adverse effects of using unclean fuel for cooking have been indicated by several reports. As per a study published by the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre, burning of solid fuels in Indian households contributes for about 50% of all ambient air pollution. PM 2.5 a finer particulate matter which is responsible for several adverse health effects in terms of respiratory diseases and heart diseases is one of the pollutants released from burning of unclean cooking fuel in Indian households. The report also states that the indoor Household Air pollution (emission amount of PM 2.5 by burning of solid fuels) causes premature death of about 8 lakh people in India per year and this HAP travels outdoors and contribute in ambient air pollution which causes premature death of additional 3 lakh people in India per year. HAP contributes to far greater premature mortality than industries, power plants and transportation. Besides, pollution, use of solid fuels has other drawbacks as well. Use of firewood results in deforestation thereby contributing in global warming and causes overall damage to the environment. It also deprives the children of poor households from availing their Right to Education as they are engaged in fetching firewood, making dung cakes etc.
Due to these issues government launched the PMUY scheme whose main aim is to provide for environment friendly clean cooking fuel to poor households that will ultimately result in improvement of health condition of BPL people mainly the women who are exposed to hazardous emissions from burning unclean fuel. The scheme also has some indirect advantages. It helps to provide occupation to people in rural areas who lack proper skills as they can be occupied for supply of LPG. The scheme also helps the poor people to save more as cost for procuring LPG gets reduced and hence enhances their economic condition. Lastly, it also has an indirect benefit of helping poor children to receive education as they are no longer used to procure firewood, make dung cakes etc.
Achievements of PMUY
PMUY has been able to meet its target of providing 8 crore LPG connections to BPL women before time in September 2019 when the goal was of March 2020. PMUY with laser precise targeting has made LPG accessible to deserving segment of people who were dependent on unclean cooking fuel like firewood, coal etc. The scheme resulted in increase of LPG coverage to 80% by 2018 and to about 95% by April 2019 which was around 61% in 2016. Out of all the states, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have contributed for almost half of the disbursed LPG connections with 44% of all LPG connections being given out in these states. PMUY has been one of the fastest implemented schemes which achieved success to a large extent due to reorientation and better targeting of subsidies. The government approach of Direct Benefit Transfer has helped to eliminate fake beneficiaries from the system of subsidies and it resulted in huge amount of savings on the part of the government which was redistributed among the poor households. Further, the campaign of “Give Up” has led to freeing up of millions of LPG connections by affluent beneficiaries who opted to give up their LPG subsidy.
PMUY has been a transformational shift towards clean and environment friendly energy. It has been responsible for empowering women who used to the exposed to the negative impact of burning of traditional cooking fuels like coal, firewood etc. Cleaner fuel has huge impact on health of women as it helps to eliminate the various risks like respiratory problems, eye problems, heart diseases etc that arise due to inhaling of fumes from burning of unclean fuel. Use of LPG has also helped women to save time as it is a faster method and it has given children of poor households an opportunity to receive education instead of wasting time in collection of wood, coal, making of dung cakes etc. The use of LPG in place of traditional fuel has also helped to keep the households clean and has prevented staining of utensils and roofs with soot. Lastly, the scheme has helped to keep the environment clean by reducing emissions and it has also reduced the pressure on forests as demand for firewood has reduced due to use of LPG as an alternative.
Criticism of PMUY
PMUY has achieved a lot since its introduction, however, it has had to face a lot of issues. One of the major issues that PMUY had to face was sustained use of LPG by beneficiaries. Though the scheme has provided monetary help during installation, it has not been of much help during subsequent refills. As a result, a significant section of beneficiaries has not opted for refill due to high cost after having used LPG once. The number of people with LPG connections has increased significantly but increase in refill rate has been dismally low. As per reports, the annual average refill consumption has fallen to 3.08 cylinders by September 2019 from 3.21 refills during December 2018. States of Assam, Odisha, Telangana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had lower refill consumption than the average of 3.08 between October 2018 and September 2019. People in rural areas consume massive amounts of energy to meet the demands of large quantity of fodder for cattle, heating water during winter etc. This increases the cost of use in case of LPG. The high cost of refill becomes untenable for low income households and they revert back to use of traditional cooking fuel.
The distant location of dealers also serves as a factor for the people to avoid refilling of their cylinders. The sudden emptying of cylinder without warning also becomes a cause of trouble for people who find it difficult to arrange for money immediately and even if money is available then the time taken for ordering a refill causes inconvenience. And as people are provided with only one cylinder under the scheme they are pushed to opt for firewood, coal etc. Another major issue is behavioural bias towards use of traditional fuel. People are unaware of the ill effects of burning firewood, coal etc and hence are unwilling to change to an alternative. Further, some people have the belief that food cooked using traditional fuel is good for health and tastes better and as it costs less so it becomes a primary source for cooking. Even though people have received LPG cylinder they use it as an alternate source. For example, during winters, fuel wood benefits the people by providing warmth and hence it is preferred over LPG however during rainy season due to difficulty in collection of firewood and dung cakes they opt for LPG.
People are even unaware about the safety measures needed and the process to use LPG. As a result, they use LPG in conditions which can cause damage or even may cause fatalities. Like use of LPG under leaking roof can cause corrosion of burners, storing of kerosene, cow dung, straw etc nearby LPG area and in ill ventilated room increases the risk of fire in the houses. Poor micro level implementation has been another issue. In 2017, IOCL replied to an RTI application and as per the reply it was seen that till May, 2017 not a single family from North eastern states of Tripura, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland had benefitted from the scheme. This portrays that though on report LPG connections have been provided but on ground reality does not match with the statistics of the reports. Lastly, irregularities, discrepancies in actual number of beneficiaries and number of beneficiaries reported, illegal means of money collection from beneficiaries for supplying cylinders, non supply of cylinder to single women etc have also reduced the efficiency of the scheme.
Recommendations to Improve Efficiency of PMUY
The government can increase the subsidy for refill of LPG as cost of refill is one of the primary reasons for not opting LPG. Stacking of LPG must be addressed, and steps must be adopted to prevent stacking of LPG after first use. Roping in self help groups, small finances banks etc will help to fund the cost of refill for beneficiaries and will encourage them to move towards sustained use of LPG. The loan scheme must be done away with as it causes confusion and government should increase the subsidy amount for each connection. Government could adopt financing additional subsidy amount from similar revenues sources like cesses for education, road and infrastructure etc. Increasing the number of dealers and making accessibility easier will help to eliminate the issue of travelling long distances for refill. Government can provide double bottled connection and can launch mechanism to alert the beneficiaries regarding their next tentative date of refill so that beneficiaries do not have to face inconvenience and they effectively plan their energy requirements. Government can move towards gradual phasing out of subsidy for well off families based on wealth indicators which would increase the fund base for PMUY. Increasing the efficiency of stoves can also help in reducing consumption rates and help in enhancing savings.
Lack of awareness is a key issue among the people and government should adopt a combined approach involving media, radio, TV, newspapers, video on wheels, road shows etc to increase awareness regarding the benefits of using LPG and the different ill effects related to health and environment from the use of traditional fuel. This would make the people aware, would help in mitigating the misconceptions like use of LPG is a luxury, food on LPG does not taste good, there is no harmful effect in using firewood, coal etc and would bring about much needed behavioural changes. Government should also design the booking methods in a more user-friendly way as per the needs of the beneficiaries who find it complicated to use the interactive voice response method. Mismatch of reported data and actual ground level statistics must be addressed at once and necessary step must be taken to reduce and eliminate such discrepancies. Lastly, government needs to adopt proper research methodology and policies must be framed based on the findings of research.
PMUY has been a laudable initiative of the government to move towards clean energy. The aim of the scheme to aid and assist the poor women in procuring LPG connection by means of financial help has helped to deal with the issue of high initial cost of LPG connection. The scheme has successfully achieved its target well before time and it has helped to reduce household pollution and has assisted in ensuring that women are not exposed to the harmful emission from burning coal, firewood etc. However, government now needs to focus on ensuring sustained use of LPG by beneficiaries. Different reports have stated that though PMUY has helped BPL people to procure LPG connections, but the subsequent high refill rates have acted as a hindrance foe the people to shift completely from traditional fuel to LPG. Lack of awareness and prevalent misconceptions also need to be addressed. PMUY is a great initiative for the first phase to provide LPG connections but changes are needed in the scheme so that people move towards sustained use of clean fuel like LPG.