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Deadly smoke set to return to kitchens as Modi govt cuts LPG subsidies

Air pollution inside houses, primarily due to burning solid fuels, contributed to more than 1 million deaths in 2010, making it the second-biggest health risk factor in India.

A woman uses dung as a cooking fuel at her village home in Uttar Pradesh (Represenational Image) | Photographer T. Narayan | Bloomberg
A woman uses dung as a cooking fuel at her village home in Uttar Pradesh (Represenational Image) | Photographer T. Narayan | Bloomberg

Mumbai/New Delhi: Five years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offered Indian women a chance to dramatically improve their lives with cooking fuel subsidies in what became one of his administration’s most celebrated campaigns.

Now, hamstrung by a widening fiscal deficit, New Delhi has been slowly reducing the size of those handouts — a shift that risks upsetting women voters and potentially exposing millions to heavier levels of pollution.

In Allauddinnagar, a village in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, Laxmi Kishore, a 35-year-old homemaker, is worried. Cooking food for her family used to be an ordeal that involved using cheap fuels like cow dung, crops and wood, which burn with a sooty flame and left her teary eyed and choking. When Modi’s program made liquefied petroleum gas cylinders affordable to her some years ago, she breathed more easily.


Also read: Why Modi govt must stop depending on petrol, diesel taxes to bridge its fiscal deficit


Now Kishore is preparing to return to her earthen stove and the smoggier fuels her ancestors used because the subsidy that landed in her account each time she refilled a cylinder has stopped arriving. Her husband lost his job as a cashier in a highway restaurant during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, making a cooking cylinder unaffordable to them without the handout.

“I’m dreading a return to my earlier pain,” she said. “It will mean less sleep and suffering in the smoke again.”

Provisions for the LPG cooking fuel subsidies were halved in the federal budget for the fiscal year ending March 2022 to 124.8 billion rupees ($1.7 billion) from 255 billion rupees a year earlier. A spokesperson at India’s oil ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The program launched in 2016 by the Modi government offered cash rebates for purchasing an LPG connection and a loan for the first canister of the fuel and stove. More than 80 million women from extremely poor households had received such LPG connections by Jan. 1 this year. The government announced plans in the latest federal budget to extend the benefit to another 10 million households, mostly located in the remote forests and hilly areas.

To help the poor struggling with lockdowns, the government last year also offered free LPG refills of three cylinders. India’s LPG consumption in 2020 surpassed gasoline for the first time ever over a calendar year, government data show.

But the free supplies were a one-off move and the finance director of Indian Oil Corp., the largest retailer of the cylinders, said last month that the government had last year stopped subsidizing the fuel for consumers except in the most remote areas.

Meanwhile, prices of LPG have surged across the country. Cost of a typical LPG cylinder sold by Indian Oil in Delhi has increased by 40% since November to 819 rupees.

Providing cooking gas has been one of the biggest successes of Modi’s flagship welfare programs which also included building toilets and houses for the poor.

“The elephant in the room is the price rise,” said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author and political analyst. “The LPG program started as a very popular scheme, but has been petering out because of the price increase. Modi will have to come up with a new emotive issue as the government is running out of money to indulge in populism measures.”

LPG is crucial for reducing domestic pollution in India. The country has the highest instances of premature deaths in the world due to emissions from burning fossil fuels, including coal and oil products, according to research done by Harvard University in collaboration with other academic institutions.

“Withdrawal of subsidy and increase in prices is likely to affect LPG consumption, particularly in rural areas where alternatives such as firewood, agricultural residue, dung cakes are readily available,” according to Ashok Sreenivas, a senior fellow at Prayas, an Indian advocacy group that works in energy policy.

An increase in the use of alternative solid fuels will “definitely impact the health” of rural women and children as these release particulate matters that can cause illnesses including lung cancer, heart ailments and even stroke, he said.

India faces issues other than price in getting poorer populations to adopt cleaner fuel. Availability is also a problem in far flung areas that are hard to reach, Prayas said in a December report. India’s oil ministry has said beneficiaries of the program availed of less than two refills of the three free ones offered over nine months last year.

Air pollution inside houses, primarily due to burning solid fuels like wood, dried dung and biomass, contributed to more than 1 million deaths in 2010, making it the second- biggest health risk factor in India, according to a 2015 report by Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues.

The International Energy Agency in a special report last month said that despite the recent success in expanding coverage of LPG in rural areas, 660 million Indians haven’t fully switched to modern, clean cooking fuels. Higher costs and fewer subsidies might only make it harder to draw new users. Vehicular exhaust, industrial emissions and other factors have already made India home to 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.

The task of encouraging the poor to use the cleaner fuel becomes even more challenging with millions losing their jobs during the pandemic. Poor households are more sensitive to higher fuel prices as they can easily shift to cheaper alternatives for which they need to pay just a few cents every day, rather than spending as much as $11 per cylinder upfront.

“Prices are rising and the government has stopped compensating us,” said Kaushal Kishore, Laxmi’s husband. “I can’t afford LPG any further and this is my last cylinder till I find myself a job.”-Bloomberg


Also read: In Sikkim villages, this special ‘chulha’ from Nepal helps reduce firewood use, pollution


 

38 COMMENTS

  1. For 70 years no one bothered about these people and a little hike in price or change is subcidies This idiotic news paper which is co-owned by Congress or the owner who lycks Congress balls came to question. Grow up syckers

  2. There is a point regarding inconvenience, but title is NONSENSE. It can’t be deadly.

  3. Organic manure no mosquitoes perfect its getting bk to where we were not new . The new worlds will come with another gas at the end of the day but at what cost
    Today carbon emissions. Tomorrow another emission protocol its all expected
    Live happily the way we were 50 yrs rather than on a rover car and a mansion killing all your life for a few luxury

  4. Give releif and take releif away. Thats how it has been for the past 78 years of my life and that is what will happen in the future as well, no matter who is leading.

  5. This article as well as the flawed implementation – not intention – of government policy on LPG subsidies to the poor highlights one of the major pitfalls of measuring policy success based on “output” as opposed to “outcomes”. Sometimes known as Goodhart’s law, which essentially says:

    “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

    Thus, with great fanfare, PM Modi announced that X million LPG connections were given, Y million toilets were built, Z million bank accounts for the poor were opened and so on. But as any student of the field of Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) will tell you, these are output variables. They do not measure any positive outcomes for the targeted populace and are therefore no indicators of policy success.

    In the case of LPG subsidies, very little monitoring was done of the rollout of the subsidies to households and health benefits i.e. positive outcomes accruing to households that had switched to LPG. All that the Modi government was interested in was bragging that LPG cylinders were given. Not whether households actually used them or families benefited from them. Or for that matter even could avail of the subsidy given various upfront investments and maintenance costs.

    But research findings are available.

    A sample of 420 households in Bangalore were studied by researchers André Neto-Bradley and R. Rishika Rangarajan (ref: bit.ly/37K3uAC) and their findings:

    – HIGH UPFRONT STOVE COSTS: Switching from kerosene or firewood to LPG entails high investments in a different type of stove. This deterred some households from switching to gas.
    – RURAL MIGRANTS: Many migrants do not have households with permanent addresses and hence they do not have bank accounts to receive the LPG subsidy.
    – KEROSENE SALE RESTRICTIONS: To nudge people to use LPG, the GOI restricted sale of kerosene. Result: Households went to firewood; kerosene demand in black markets increased.
    – HIGH UPFRONT COSTS FOR CYLINDERS: A gas cylinder sells for Rs 850 or so. Many poor on unpredictable incomes are unable to pay this large amount and instead resort to buying firewood as and when needed.
    None of the above factors went into the planning before implementing the LPG subsidy scheme.

    The researchers identified 4 types of households:

    1. Households that could not avail of the LPG subsidies due to their informal living conditions;
    2. Households that struggled to pay the much higher costs of the LPG scheme;
    3. Households that adopt gas for cooking but continued to use traditional methods in parallel;
    4. Households that were not aware of support they would be eligible for.

    BOTTOMLINE: Ending of the LPG subsidy surely brings with it problems for households that have converted to gas. But even when the subsidy was in place, the GOI did not measure the outcomes of the subsidy in terms of health benefits, especially for women and children who stay longer periods at home. Indeed, there is no conclusive evidence that LPG was actually being used in households which were allocated the subsidy.

    Finally, schemes and policies of the GOI should focus on the achievement of desired outcomes and not merely outputs. Alas, Modi the demagogue does not care about outcomes, only the outputs that he can use in speeches to boast about achievements under his watch.

  6. Smoke is aggravated by indifference of Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman Chairperson GST Council to 💯mark in Petrol Diesel Gas for want of Virtual Meeting for notifying Goodfuelsday since when these Necessaries will come under One India One Tax GST u/s 9(2) GST Act 2017.

  7. The print news blog is not national interest, I am wonder is it Indian news blog or forgein
    What about past 70years country village womens was in smoke can you justify it and you did spoke earlier like this….At least in past 6 year we are seeing LPG at village earlier not at all..
    ….

  8. Giving Subsidy for anything is a limited time offer, not for full lifetime. It was done due to initial phase of COVID. Same like any offer ends, now government is slowly removing it. Nothing wrong with this, it’s the ruling government choice, not compulsion. Agree, it’s difficult for poor people. But stop posting anything just like that, ignorance is a bliss and certain category people are always crybabies for everything.

  9. Lpg subsidy always existed, the central govt after 2014 only removed the subsidy discount on the bill and sent it later to the account as direct cash transfer.
    Lpg subsidy is not paid for by your income tax. Govt collects a lot of sales tax and excise on all petroleum products. Lpg is a by-product of refinary. If you take total cost of crude oil + processing fee + logistics it is less than total money paid for petrol+diesel + lpg + plastic + a dozen other products paid for by people. Subsidy is only to prioritize cooking as it is an essential need (even before petrol for transport)

  10. Uh-oh! The subsidies that got BJP the votes from poor women are beginning to pinch. Let’s see how long other welfare schemes hold up until 2024.

    But states like TN are now trying to promise large doles to the public to win the votes. I am sure their shoes will pinch them later.

    Middle class salaried taxpayers, brace yourself as the welfare tap has to be kept open for political parties to survive both in Centre and the states. Expect increase in income taxes for salaried classes next year. Already petrol and LPG is rising. Indirect taxes will have to also be increased.

  11. Pathetic attempt by the authors to try to paint Modi black. This is NOT true. The Minister has clarified.

  12. Print is some how or the other becoming expert in interpreting only the negative aspects of every Government’s activity. Mindset????

  13. I would request everyone to switch to electric Induction stoves. We have been using it for more than ten years. It is economical. You will have to use flat bottom iron or stainless steel that are combatable. We will save on import bills too. It is the safest cooking method for cooking indoors with ladies and children around.

    • Mr/Ms PK: Care to inform us as to which bracket you belong to ? And then maybe take a trip to an Indian village and tell the women there to stop using cowdung cakes, firewood etc. and switch to electric induction ovens.

      But do remember to pack a lota also when you travel to the villages – unless you beleive in the Modi fantasy that all of India is now open defaecation free…

  14. At least 50% of heat energy can be met from a cheap solar water heater to preheat the water.
    Indian cooking predominantly involves low heat boiling, which can be achieved by a hybrid system of solar heater+ LPG stove+ heat insulated casings.
    Anganwadis can be made as master trainers in far flung rural areas.
    ( Idea culled from Vikashpaedia.in)

  15. Instead of buying unwanted crops at MSP and allowing then to rot, the government needs to cut taxes on LPG.

  16. Ha ha.. you’re the mouthpiece of the ever shameless Shekhar Gupta who is a disgrace to journalism himself. 1 million deaths in 2010 due to solid fuel burning – where did you manufacture such brilliantly shitty statistics ? And even then, 2010 was Congress raj, remember? Not BJP.

  17. ModI sir, you remodified us back to 90’s life style. You are only one and your government that we want to get rid off. Pls leave us

  18. Smoke from cow dung used as a medium of fuel is not at all deadly…..the smoke is purifier and good for the environment……stop doing politics on everything

    • Mr Himadri Kr. Your asinine rant:

      “.. Smoke from cow dung .. is purifier and good for the environment ..”

      makes one wonder whether there is dung in your skull !

      Fact is, traditional methods of cooking that use various types of biomass such as cow dung are health hazards for women and children who tend to be more at home. There is enough research about this. Let me point you to some:

      1: Cow dung smoke–A causative factor for chronic bronchitis & emphysema;
      Rai et al; ref: bit.ly/30wqkYi

      2: Cow Dung Smoke Exposure Enhances Non-Typeable Haemophilus influenza Adherence to Human Airway Epithelial Cells; Rajendra et al; ref: bit.ly/3qBPsr2

      3:Cow dung smoke could cause arsenic poisoning;
      Savvy Soumya Misra; Ref: bit.ly/3tdZoch

      4: Indoor pollution from solid biomass fuel and rural health damage: A micro-environmental study in rural area of Burdwan, West Bengal;
      Chakraborty et al; ref: bit.ly/2OKxy8c

      5: Pathogenic bacteria and parasites of human importance from cow dung;
      Chourasia et al; ref: bit.ly/3rCYGVk

      So stop believing everything they tell you in your shaka or what Baba Ramdev tells you!

  19. It seems that there is a real conspiracy behind this LPG scheme. Modi government bought more and more families under this schemes and offered subsidy to encourage them to use it. Now this government has increased the prices many fold and it seems that it is doing to favour Ambani.

  20. Subsidies was started from a long back. With only 6% are paying Incometax and 80% people enjoying life long BPL card and subsidies is not correct. Even after 70 years bad ruling and false promises made people wait for subsidies. One had to work hard as god given health and earn. But if you going on continuing subsidies one day disaster will struck to Indian economy

  21. When did pm ever care about poor people. His focus was always on Ram mandir, building statues, expensive clothing and PR stunts

  22. Before modi government every woman in kitchen gets solid fuel for cooking without smoke (PUC checked) and Alu as golden treasure.

  23. PM is not magician:, onset of global recession and increase in cost of crude oil and Covid lock down, it is not possible to dole out free at the cost of nation as PM is not for vote bank politics and he is a rare nation building statesman and cheer he will loose election!

  24. This government is doing pure business, first with subsidies and rebates gas cylinders are reached to poor house holds, than after a year he stops subsidies, and makes lpg cylinder beyond the reach of poor, so he is a prime minister who is absolutely not bothered about poor he is a real baniya

    • He is trying to spend the money fairly. Any government who has to correct the mistakes of all the earlier congress governments has had to spend more. At least Modi opened the door for the possibility of LPG. The Congress used it as a tool for exploitation.

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