Clean and affordable cooking is both a crucial public health and energy equity issue. Given the policy and investment push, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) has been and will continue to be a major part of the solution in India. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has ensured near 100% connection penetration of LPG in the country today. PMUY continues to be one of the major social protection schemes, as was seen even during the COVID-19 crisis, where three free cylinders to PMUY beneficiaries were provided. Recently in the budget speech, the Finance minister announced that PMUY would be expanded to a further 1 Crore people. All of these suggest that PMUY, and indeed LPG, is here to stay and would be one of the prominent public instruments to ensure rural transition to clean cooking fuels; while an urban transition to piped natural gas and electric induction cooking is currently underway in parallel.
Connections notwithstanding, there are considerable gaps when it comes to sustained adoption of LPG as a clean cooking fuel. The latest pan-India data available from NSSO's 76th round survey on Drinking Water Sanitation Hygiene and Housing Conditions and the 5th National Family Health Survey (NFHS) paint a grim picture. Even few years into PMUY, about half of rural India still relies on solid fuels for its primary cooking needs. While affordability, behaviour change, local tastes, cultural habits etc. are indubitably some of the drivers for translation of connections to sustainable use of LPG, quality of supply and service (QoSS) and all the factors that ensure QoSS are also crucial to this story.
If the public health and social development goals and the huge investments made in PMUY and expanding distributorship networks have to be fully realised, we need to focus on both policy and governance issues in ensuring sustained use of LPG, especially in the rural and underserved areas. To discuss some of these issues, Prayas (Energy Group) organised a roundtable discussion by bringing various stakeholders together. The roundtable discussion was dedicated to the memory of Kirk R. Smith who worked tirelessly to understand and address the challenge of indoor air pollution arising from use of solid cooking fuels in India and around the world.