Ujjwala 2.0: From Access to Sustained Usage
Kirk R. Smith and Santosh Harish
By September 2019, some 80 million poor households will have been connected to LPG since 2015 through the national programme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (Ujjwala). This is in addition to “normal” growth in LPG connections amounting to approximately 40 million households. By any account, this is a remarkable achievement, bringing total households with LPG connections from about 60% of the country early this decade to some 95% by the beginning of the next.
Connection, however, does not mean full usage and many new Ujjwala households and others continue to use significant amounts of biomass fuel, with consequent impacts on the health of village populations from the smoke. In addition, it is now well established that smoke from household biomass use is the largest single source of outdoor air pollution in the country, although of course not the only one. Its continued use thus is a problem for all Indians.
How to continue to fulfill the promise of Ujjwala in its second phase, here called Ujjwala 2.0, is an important policy discussion in the country. Three essential tasks remain: extend connections to the entire country, now requiring work among some of the most remote, poor, and disenfranchised groups; enhance usage among all users to complete the national household energy transition; and further extinguish fuel subsidies among the middle class to keep taxpayer costs from rising as efforts are enhanced to assist the poorest.
The Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre solicited suggestions as to what Ujjwala 2.0 might consider incorporating into its plans from nine major research groups that have been working on assessments of the current Ujjwala programme. Most have conducted recent field studies and have or are in the process of publishing their results. Links to these commentaries are provided below.
A. Communicating harms, reducing prices, and challenging inequality should be central to a redesign of the Ujjwala program- Aashish Gupta and Sangita Vyas
B. Beyond Ujjwala: Ideas to enhance LPG use sustainably- Ann Josey, Ashok Sreenivas, and Ashwini Dabadge
D. Ujjwala 2.0 Needs to Also Include Non-Ujjwala Rural LPG Consumers- Abhishek Kar, Shonali Pachauri, Rob Bailis and Hisham Zerriffi
E. Ujjwala 2: A Way Forward for Sustainable LPG Supply- Jyoti Parikh
F. Realising the Ujjwala dream- Sasmita Patnaik and Sunil Mani
G. Health Benefits of PMUY: Challenges in Effective Implementation and Possible Solutions- Sudipto Roy, Rutuja Patil, Ajay Pillarisetti, Stephen Harrell, David Levine, and Sanjay Juvekar
H. Raising the awareness for clean cooking- E Somanathan
I. Ujjwala, V2.0 What should be done next?- Alok Tripathi and Ambuj Sagar
In addition, we convened a meeting at which these groups discussed their findings and recommendations with representatives of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG), and NITI Aayog.
Here, we summarize these discussions and link recommendations to individual commentaries from the groups, where possible. We first divide the suggestions into three major categories below: subsidies, supply reliability, and information campaigns, and then address opportunities for collaboration with other national programs and suggestions for future research.
1. Subsidies: how much, for whom, what quantity, how long
There was general agreement that the government should explore differentiated subsidies, with enhanced financial support for poorer consumers, and multiple suggestions on how the subsidies could be targeted, and phased out. There were also suggestions on additional support targeting specific barriers or vulnerable groups.
1.1 Enhanced subsidies for the poor as a social investment
One option could be differential subsidies for two broad household tiers. Tripathi and Sagar recommend increased subsidies to all Ujjwala beneficiaries, perhaps at half the current subsidized price (i.e. 250 Rs), and removing subsidies for the rest. Because it relies on Ujjwala customers who have already been identified, this is perhaps easiest to administer, but may miss some deserving households.
Gupta and Vyas recommend a three-tier approach, building on the framework of the National Food Security Act. They suggest that the poorest 10% households (Antyodaya) receive LPG at nearly free rates, and ‘high priority’ households (accounting for another 75% of rural households) receive increased subsidies; others, including the urban middle class, could receive no subsidy. More broadly, Kar et al. also make the case for why other households beyond Ujjwala beneficiaries need to be provided support for sustained use.
Finally, since willingness to pay for LPG among the poor is not well understood, Patnaik and Mani recommend running pilots at different subsidy levels to determine optimal price points.
1.2 Rolling back subsidies for the middle class
LPG subsidies carry a high fiscal cost, which will grow substantially with the increase in consumers, and as usage grows over time. For limiting fiscal expenditure and better targeting of support to those who most need it, much more of the middle class needs to exit the subsidy cover. To make the case for subsidy removal, the government could emphasise how increasing LPG use among the poor reduces ambient air pollution. A well-to-do, urban LPG owner giving up their subsidy thus helps a poor family directly, and helps themselves and their neighbors through improvement in air quality.
Removing subsidies for a large group of consumers can be challenging to implement. Josey et al. recommend a switch to an opt-in approach from the current opt-out national program (“Give it up”). An opt-in design has been shown to greatly reduce uptake of subsidies by those who do not need them. Parikh also suggests limiting the subsidy eligibility to a specific period since connection, say 20 years, to focus on younger families with children and to signal that subsidies are not designed to be never-ending.
1.3 Targeted support for vulnerable groups, and to address specific barriers
Provide free LPG for pregnant women: Roy et al. argue that giving free or nearly free fuel during pregnancy maximises usage during the most vulnerable period, and encourages long-term behavioural change. This would require cooperation between oil and health sectors and coordination through PHCs, and could perhaps be taken up as a national programme.
Cover the one-time costs of stove and first refill: Josey et al. suggest that MoPNG should increase Ujjwala outlay to cover the stove and first refill rather than the no-interest loan. This extra, one-time cost would eliminate one major complaint (C) about the current program.
Summer vouchers: Kar et al. describe how usage dips in the summer due to low cash in hand, and suggest the use of summer vouchers to help ensure continued use.
1.4 Better utilization of fiscal support
Limit subsidies to nine cylinders: Multiple submissions (B, E, I) recommend that subsidised LPG be restricted to a maximum of 9, not 12, cylinders per year, which better fits current information about maximum need for most households.
Standards for stove efficiency: For better utilization of fiscal support, Josey et al. also recommend mandatory standards and labeling for LPG cookstoves, and investing in improved efficiency, thereby reducing consumption, and subsidies needed.
2. Supply reliability, and distributor accountability
For first-time LPG consumers, ensuring reliable supply is critical to promote the appeal of LPG, and avoid consumers going back to the use of solid fuel. There were several recommendations on improving supply reliability in rural areas.
Second cylinder for improved reliability: Roy et al. underscore the importance of providing easy access to second cylinders to improve supply reliability, while prioritizing areas where refills are difficult to fill quickly. Available research has shown that six of seven households are willing to pay for the second cylinder after a free trial shows them the value in improving reliability. This will also help reducing timeline pressures and costs to distributors.
Promote awareness about grievance redressal, and consumer rights: Joshi stresses on the need to improve the first experience for new consumers, as poor service inhibits future uptake. One option to do this is to integrate grassroots organizations and local self-help groups on grievance redressal options.
Make rural LPG distributors more viable: Rural distribution, as it exists, is often not a viable business, which in turn may affect quality of service. Josey et al. suggest that MoPNG find mechanisms to make rural distribution more profitable, or provide performance based differential commissions for rural distributors. MoPNG could consider diversifying services and products offered by rural distributors.
Make LPG distributors more accountable: LPG marketing guidelines is a good starting point, but can be made stronger on various processes with clear timelines, and escalation in case of issues. Josey et al. stress the need for greater transparency, and suggest that MOPNG could publish statistics quarterly on performance of distributors.
3. Information campaigns on health benefits
While LPG subsidies are likely to be the most important factor determining usage, they will not be sufficient to push households towards abandoning solid fuels. Increasing awareness about the health impacts of smoke from chulhas should complement the other initiatives.
Since cultural contexts could differ even from village to village, the content and mode of messaging will need to be varied. Multiple commentaries (D, G, H) emphasized the need to experiment with a range of messages targeting different audiences, and build in evaluations to identify the most effective ways to message.
ASHA workers could be an important channel to disseminate the benefits of LPG access and usage (H). This will need inter-ministry coordination at the centre, improved centre-state coordination to engage the state health departments, and better local interaction between the distributors and the ASHA workers. The health impacts in children should naturally be a focus, but it is also important to talk about impacts on both adult women and men.
Multiple commentaries (A, E, F) felt the need for these campaigns to influence the household decision makers—usually men and older members of the family. Besides health benefits, campaigns also need to address common misconceptions and traditional preferences that inhibit further take up of LPG.
Roy et al. propose campaigns asking households to disable the chulha (destroy, fill with rocks, or move out of the house). While chulhas are easy enough to rebuild, disabling them has high symbolic value and has been shown to be effective. Disabling can be linked with other benefits, for example, the loan of a second cylinder.
4. Ideas for linking Ujjwala 2.0 to other schemes
Incentivise LPG take-up by offering a few additional days to women in the rural employment guarantee schemes
Incentivise LPG take-up by reducing health insurance premiums for those who adopt Ujjwala in Ayushmann Bharat.
5. Research questions, and suggested inputs from researchers to policy process
Some ideas came up during the discussion on questions and inputs that researchers could focus efforts on to contribute to the policy discourse.
Experiment with different health messages. Not enough is known about what works.
Develop and further disseminate proposals and arguments for LPG targeting and pricing
Develop standard methods to monetize health impacts at the national level
Propose a continuous monitoring template, both to track progress in the transition and for distributor accountability.
Develop indicators of progress for Ujjwala 2.0—this should likely be based on refills (for example, annual refills per capita at the district level). Currently, smokeless villages (or districts) are based entirely on connections, and need to move to refills as the basis in the future.
Transitioning the millions of households that use solid fuels for cooking and other purposes is should be an important priority from the standpoints of modern energy access, the health of vulnerable populations exposed to smoke indoors, and for mitigating ambient air pollution in India. The commentaries reflect years of research from these different groups in understanding barriers to usage, and offer helpful recommendations to the decision makers in designing the next phase of this important programme.
Smith is Professor of Global Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre (CCAPC), New Delhi. Harish is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Consulting Editor of the CCAPC Policy Brief Series.