New study questions success of Centre's LPG scheme

New study questions success of Centre's LPG scheme

Poor people in Indian villages are unable to purchase refill LPG cylinders under PMUY regularly

A new study has raised key questions on the success of the much talked about Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme, which aims to usher in smokeless kitchens among BPL families through free connection and first gas cylinder. 

Carried out by researchers from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria, and Stockholm Environment Institute, Massachusetts, the first “objective” study found that poor people in Indian villages are unable to purchase refill LPG cylinders regularly, preferring instead polluting solid fuels for cooking at home.

The government programme comes with an underlying assumption that once the women experience the benefits of LPG cooking, they would switch over to the cleaner fuel. But it was not the case, as shown by the study based on the LPG sales data from Koppal district of Karnataka.

The PMUY led to an increase in the number of customers with an LPG connection, but not a corresponding increase in LPG sales. This suggests access to the cleaner fuel is still somewhat limited.

For instance, in Koppal district, out of 5,848 PMUY consumers who had completed at least one year, as many as 35% beneficiaries purchased no refills in their first year and only 7% bought four or more cylinders.

The scheme was launched in Koppal in June 2017; by December 2018, there were approximately 15,000 PMUY customers and 12,500 general customers.

But there were only about 50 daily refill sales recorded for the 15,000 PMUY customers in December 2018, whereas the 12,000-odd general consumers purchased nearly 150 refills daily.

On a national scale, data collected by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas from 30 states suggest that of all the PMUY beneficiaries who completed at least one year, 24% didn't return for even a single refill purchase in their first year whereas close to 28% purchased five or more cylinders.

“PMUY has been a remarkable achievement based on its original aim to popularise LPG by alleviating the high capital cost. However, simply providing poor households with access to clean fuels does not necessarily lead to a lasting transition,” Abhishek Kar, the first author of the study from the University of British Columbia told DH.

“We find that poor rural households are still using very little LPG (many not even going back to purchase a single refill). Officials expect that consumption will increase with experience, but we find that annual consumption doesn’t vary two, three or four years after initial acquisition.”

Kar said the study, published in the journal Nature Energy on Monday, was the first "objective" evaluation of PMUY based on LPG refill sales data because past studies on PMUY suffer from survey biases.

The average consumption of LPG by the PMUY beneficiaries is actually 50% less than that of an average rural LPG consumer, who buys five cylinders in a year. This, in turn, is about half of what would be required by an average family in India to cook exclusively with LPG - a typical rural family would require about ten cylinders per year.

Refill rates in summer, when agricultural activity is limited, are for instance about 10% lower than rates during cropping and harvest seasons when people are busy with agricultural work.

"If we focus on the ultimate goal of smokeless kitchens, PMUY must be modified to explicitly incentivise regular LPG use," Kar added.