Recent press reports indicate some very welcome trends in cleaning up the cooking fuel being used.
State run oil companies have reported signing up 30 million cooking gas consumers in 2016-17, with 2/3 of them from poorer families. In the last three years, the number of active LPG consumers have gone up by 58 million from 140 million in 2014 to 198 million in 2017. This means that 71% of Indian households now have access to clean cooking gas.
The Government has asked the oil companies to add 100 million new cooking gas customers between 2016 and 2019, of which half would have to go to poor families under the Ujjwala Yojana.
The growth in LPG usage is reflected in the fact that LPG imports in 2016-17 increased by 23% or 11 million tonnes. The increase in LPG usage is validated by data related to kerosene, the fuel it invariably replaces. With the growth of electricity access and LPG, the consumption of kerosene, used by the poor for lighting and cooking, has started dropping significantly. The consumption of subsidized kerosene used by the poor fell from 6.3 million MT in April 2016 to 5 million MT in February 2017, a decrease of over 20% in 11 months.
All this is very good news on several fronts.
More use of LPG for cooking means less use of kerosene, firewood and bio-mass. LPG is a clean burning and efficient fuel, which means much less harmful CO2 or particulate emissions. This has significant positive health benefits for women who invariably tend to the cooking fires. It also has a positive impact on air pollution and climate change.
Lowering the amount of subsidized kerosene means a reduced fiscal burden on the exchequer and lower fossil fuel subsidies. It also offers less opportunity to adulterate diesel. The Government’s plan to directly transfer cash in to the bank accounts of poor kerosene consumers in place of a subsidy will further reduce diversion and adulteration.
The Central Government has offered the States financial incentives for reducing their offtake of subsidized kerosene and for implementing the direct transfer of kerosene subsidy. This has further contributed to reduction in the offtake of kerosene.
At current rates, the use of traditional fuels can be reduced almost completely in the next 2-3 years.