Does Ujjwala 2.0 hold the answers to India’s air pollution problem?

Air pollution kills more Indians than any other risk factor with nearly 1.6 million people dying due to it. While discourse around the issue reaches a crescendo every year as pollution worsens in Delhi, much of it is usually focussed on ways of combating its outdoor sources.

What usually gets left out in this conversation is the huge impact indoor pollution — caused largely because of burning of biomass fuels all through the year — has on public health. The cost is obviously enormous: Nearly 600,000 Indians died due to indoor or household air pollution in 2019.

With nearly half of the country’s population relying on wood, dung and kerosene, household fuels are the single biggest source of outdoor pollution in India. A study conducted by University of California-Berkeley in May 2019 concluded that if India eliminated emissions from these sources — without making any changes to industrial or vehicle emissions — it would bring the average outdoor air pollution levels below the country’s air quality standard. Mitigating the use of household fuels could also reduce air pollution-related deaths in India by approximately 13 percent, the equivalent to saving about 270,000 lives a year, the study added.

When the government launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna in 2016, it took the first step to mitigating the use of biomass fuels, by providing capital cost subsidies to poor women to adopt a clean-burning cooking fuel or LPG.

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