Fact Check

The Flaw in Using a Comparative Estimate to Deride Ujjwala- Here Are Some Facts for India Today

household air pollution

If you read a report on ‘India Today’ website titled Despite Narendra Modi’s LPG push, household air pollution kills 8 lakh people, it gives you an impression that Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is failing and the publication is offering some sort of evidence to back this claim. But it turns out, that it is simply citing a study on Household Air Pollution to present a misleading narrative on Ujjwala scheme. In a gist, what the study has observed is that the emissions of PM2.5 that are generated from household solid fuel burning, is the single largest source of air pollution exposure in India. It did mention that Ujjwala scheme is an important step in this direction, but argues for the expansion of the scheme.

It is nobody’s case to argue that the country has achieved the goal of making India indoor air pollution-free. But to use it as a tool to deride the efforts like Ujjwala, which India Today seems to be trying with the sub-title such as ‘Solid fuel flies in the face of LPG campaign’, is problematic and misleading. Here is why.

Not Based on Survey

As this document itself makes it clear that the study is based on a comparative take of seven other studies. The ‘policy brief’ itself is titled as “The Contribution of Household Fuels to Ambient Air Pollution in India – A Comparison of Recent Estimates.” So, clearly it is not the case where surveyors have actually gone to the doorsteps to take a sample survey to establish whether a particular household is using LPG, or other means for cooking. Therefore, India Today’s effort to link it to Ujjwala is misleading.

The Dated Sources

Among the seven other studies which were taken as comparative study material for the ‘Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre’, one is of 2014, another belongs to 2015, and two studies belong to 2016. Everybody knows that Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was started on May 1, 2016. So, if any media house, like India Today chooses this study to raise question marks on the performance of Ujjwala scheme, they should know better!

There has not been any study conducted based on LPG distribution in the country and so this study and the findings are premature. The below writing found on page number 10 of this study indicates that there is a scope of further evaluating outdoor pollution. So, it is disingenuous for India Today or any other media analyst to cite this study to cast doubts on Ujjwala.

Facts for Policy Writers

The study itself doesn’t make any detailed comment over the reach and performance of Ujjwala scheme. But the policy brief opines, “The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is an important policy effort in this direction. However, it is essential to look to further expand the access of LPG to more beneficiaries, and work towards ensuring sustained use of LPG by households that have already joined the programme. We should also redouble efforts—most likely, ensuring access to reliable electricity— to substitute for other household pollution sources, such as bathwater heating and kerosene lighting. Averting 1.1 million premature deaths annually need us to take bold strides towards universal access to cleaner residential fuels.”

But, here are some facts the policy writers of the ‘policy brief’ cited above also failed to appreciate.

  • Number of household LPG connections in all these years after independence, that is, from 1947 to 2014 stood at 13 crores. Whereas, under the Modi Government 12 crore household LPG connections have been provided between 2014 and 2018. Read the details in our previous story Easing Lives and Building Healthy India – Making Sense of the LPG Revolution.
  • Oil Marketing Companies have informed that nearly 80% of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) beneficiaries who have completed one year from date of Subscription Voucher released on December 31, 2018, have come back for the second refill, which indicates that there has been a huge behavioural change happening on the ground.
  • At a time of policy writers offering their opinion that the Ujjwala should be expanded, the government has already moved in that direction. A recent news report in Live Mint says that the government is thinking about the expansion of the scheme with focus on delivery and use of smaller 5 kg LPG gas cylinders.
  • It is not just about providing LPG connection but the government has been spending great deal of resources to bring in behavioural change, which is an important step in containing household air pollution. As many as 87,876 LPG panchayats have been conducted across the country. Ujjwala Didi, a CSR handholding initiative, aims at creating a force of 10,000 grassroots educators who can take the three messages till the last mile, viz. (i) Clean Cooking Fuel is to be universally available (ii) Clean Cooking fuel is affordable and (iii) LPG is safe to use and insured.