Clean fuel choices of urban India’s poor

PMUY should expand its reach to urban slum households, given that there are still households without LPG connections. (Image: Adam Cohn, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))
PMUY should expand its reach to urban slum households, given that there are still households without LPG connections. (Image: Adam Cohn, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

With increased urbanisation, India is experiencing acute air pollution in its urban centres. Slum-dwellers are doubly affected, both by the higher concentration of particulate matter in urban areas as well as indoor air pollution from the use of unclean cooking fuels.

With more than 13.7 million people living in slums in country (Census 2011), there is a strong impetus to understand the use of clean cooking fuels in such households. A recent report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) titled ‘Are India's urban poor using clean cooking fuels?’ examines access to clean cooking energy, specifically across urban slum households in six Indian states - Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.

These states have a low socio-demographic index and a high disease burden due to air pollution. Urban slums suffer from the double burden of pollution. They are exposed to the high ambient particulate matter pollution of cities and the household air pollution from unclean cooking fuels.

The analysis by CEEW shows that a large share of these households do not have access to clean fuels due to lack of affordability or patchy supply. The analysis focuses on the fuel use patterns of households, the extent of use of LPG and solid fuels, fuel stacking behaviour, and the primary cook’s perception of various cooking fuels and their health impacts.

Key findings

While most urban slum households have an LPG connection, exclusive use of LPG is limited to just over half of the total households. Nearly half of the urban slum population (45 per cent) across the six states still rely on polluting fuels for cooking – either entirely (12 per cent) or stacking with LPG (33 per cent).

The household’s economic status (measured through asset ownership) and access to doorstep delivery of LPG refills are two critical factors that determine their ability to use LPG exclusively. Households with higher asset ownership have significantly higher odds of using LPG as an exclusive fuel.

About 37 per cent of the households using LPG in urban slums report not receiving LPG cylinders at their doorstep. The majority of such households’ report dependency on male members and loss of wage to procure the cylinder.

While the six states covered in the survey have the highest percentage of households covered under the scheme, only 23 per cent of slum households had Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) connections. Despite PMUY, about 12 per cent of the urban slum households do not use LPG and rely on polluting fuels entirely.

Stacking with polluting fuels continues

Although schemes like PMUY have helped increase LPG adoption, this has not resulted in the complete replacement of biomass-based fuels. Despite 86 per cent of households having an LPG connection, the data shows that over a third of slum households are stacking with polluting fuels (including firewood, dung cakes, agriculture residue, charcoal, and kerosene).

Most of these households use polluting fuels daily or at least weekly, which increases their exposure to household air pollution. Among the households stacking LPG with polluting fuels, the reasons for stacking vary: affordability, free-of-cost availability of biomass, seasonality, and taste preferences.

Across asset quintiles, the study found that stacking is highest among the middle categories (second and third quintile), though most households in these categories have adopted LPG. Still, the affordability of the fuel remains a significant concern.

One-fourth of households who are stacking polluting fuels have a median annual refill rate of eight cylinders and above (same as exclusive LPG users), despite having a similar household size as those using LPG exclusively. Most of such households fall in the wealthiest asset quintiles and use a chulha (mud stove) for cooking chapatis or vegetables, suggesting that they are not necessarily using unclean fuels due to the unaffordability of LPG, but due to other factors like the taste.

Awareness about LPG subsidies is low among the primary cooks, with about 28 per cent of the households reporting not knowing if they received the subsidy amount for their last refill.

The use of polluting fuels increases during winter, especially when fuel requirement for non-cooking tasks within the household like water heating for bathing and space heating increases.

To reduce the health impacts from household air pollution, households who are stacking with polluting fuels would need to transition to exclusive use of clean cooking fuels.

Increased poverty would mean increased use of polluting fuels – there is a need for a renewed emphasis on clean cooking energy access during the COVID-19 pandemic as increased use of polluting fuels has health implications (lower respiratory infections and coronary chronic obstructive disease (COPD)) that increase the risk of COVID-19 infections being more severe.

Key recommendations

  • The next phase of PMUY should expand its reach to urban slum households, given that there are still households without LPG connections.
  • Target vulnerable households beyond PMUY beneficiaries for differential support. The low share of PMUY households effectively made most slum households ineligible for relief support given under PM-Garib Kalyan Yojana during the lockdown.
  • Oil and marketing companies could explore providing performance-based incentives to distributors serving urban poor customers to get a greater margin on the commissions.
  • Leverage platforms like LPG Panchayats for recurring campaigns communicating the process of subsidy calculation and disbursement for households.
  • Increase awareness about actual expense on the refills to improve women’s bargaining power within the household. The intrahousehold decision making regarding refill purchase remains dominated by male members.
  • Integrate access to clean cooking energy schemes with other ministries’ social assistance programmes (e.g., health, education and nutrition assistance) to better target support for slum households.

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Suggested Citation: Jha, Shaily, Sasmita Patnaik, and Rithima Warrier. 2021. Are India’s Urban Poor Using Clean Cooking Fuels? Insights from Slums in Six States. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.