Making India free of smoky kitchens

Making India free of smoky kitchens

The United Nations and its member states, including India, met in September in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is recognition now that access to modern energy — clean cooking and electricity — has a critical impact on the quality of life. Thus, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy is Goal 7 under the SDG framework. Today, India has the world’s largest population without modern energy access — 400 million people don’t have electricity and twice that number use traditional biomass to cook. With these staggering figures, can India meet SDG 7 in the next 15 years?

National discourse on energy access in India mainly focusses on electricity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that one of Digital India’s aspirations is to provide 24×7 electricity supply by 2022 to every household in the country. For this purpose, there are plans for new power plants, increased coal production, large renewable energy investments, and strengthening of transmission and distribution infrastructure. However, there is relative silence on the issue of clean cooking fuels.


Pooja Vijay Ramamurthi


Rahul Kuttickat

Cooking has proven to cause one of the biggest health hazards inIndia: Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) caused by combustion of traditional biomass for cooking results in 5 lakh to 9 lakh deaths per year. It also causes many respiratory and cardiac diseases. As cooking is done by women with children in 90 per cent of Indian households, they are most exposed to IAP.

In India, attempts to deploy clean cooking interventions — improving the efficiency of biomass stoves or replacing biomass with cleaner fuels — have mostly failed. Between 2001 and 2011, the use of traditional cook stoves has decreased by only 11 per cent. National programmes distributed 35 million ‘Improved Cook Stoves’ (ICS) in the 1980s; about 1 million are in use today. The national biogas scheme saw limited success with 0.4 per cent of the current population using biogas.

Although efforts to promote Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) through subsidy schemes and increased distribution centres have resulted in 70 per cent of urban houses adopting LPG as their primary cooking fuel, only 15 per cent of rural houses have done the same.

At the current pace of deployment of clean cooking interventions, a recent study by the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) titled ‘Quality of Life for All: A Sustainable Development Framework for India’s Climate Policy’ shows that even in 2030, 40 per cent of the population will be biomass dependent. Of these, only 25 per cent will have access to efficient cook stoves. This implies that it is unlikely that India will meet the SDG target of universal clean cooking. To encourage widescale clean cooking, inter-departmental coordination is vital. Currently, ICS and biogas uptake schemes are implemented by the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, while LPG and Piped Natural Gas are distributed by oil marketing companies under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The Ministry of Health has its own targets to reduce IAP by 50 per cent in 2025. These Ministries and others should form an integrated action plan.

This action plan must include a nationwide awareness programme to promote clean cooking with rigour. Existing networks of local institutions and self-help groups should help in clean cooking deployment. The scope of ICS and biogas missions should be more ambitious. Local communities should be engaged to operate and sell ICS and biogas plants. This will result in the formation of good product supply chains. While capital subsidies are necessary to make clean cooking technologies affordable, mechanisms like Direct Benefit Transfer can be used to disseminate clean cooking technologies.

LPG will be a key component in providing Indian households with clean cooking fuel. The ‘Give It Up’ campaign is a step in the right direction. Thirteen per cent of eligible households have already surrendered their subsidies, which is 1-2 per cent (Rs. 1,400 million) of the government’s total LPG subsidy burden.

There is, however, a need for further efforts, such as differentiated LPG subsidies depending on income levels. Distribution networks in rural areas must also be strengthened. CSTEP’s report shows that through a sustainable approach, which prioritises SDG 7, 95 per cent of India would have access to clean cooking technologies in 2030. Compared to policy-as-usual, under the sustainable approach, negative health impacts of IAP are reduced by half, drudgery of fuel collection is cut down by two thirds, and black carbon emissions are decreased by 80 per cent.

By focussing on clean cooking access and taking concrete efforts to deploy clean cooking technologies, it would be possible for India to be free from smoky kitchens by 2030 and fulfil the SDG 7 target.

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