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Paper

Caste, Class and Gender in Determining Access to EnergyA Critical Review of LPG Adoption in India

Sasmita Patnaik, Shaily Jha
June 2020 | Energy Access

Suggested Citation: Patnaik, Sasmita, and Shaily Jha. 2020. "Caste, class and gender in determining access to energy: A critical review of LPG adoption in India." Energy Research & Social Science 67: 101530.

Overview

This paper evaluates energy access through the lens of caste, class and gender. It uses an integrated framework - Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) - to analyse the Government of India's most recent and possibly the largest initiative for providing clean cooking energy - Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). It assesses the extent to which PMUY is able to enhance the use of LPG by overcoming the existing caste, class and gender-based exclusion. An understanding of energy access through these lenses would allow designing energy policies differently, accounting for the socio-economic inequality in pricing, subsidies and implementation of policies. The analysis of PMUY was supported through theoretical insights from the literature and empirical evidence from ACCESS 2018 study.

Key Findings

  • PMUY recognises inequality across social groups and gender in access to clean cooking energy. However, the connection centric effort of the scheme misses out on the challenge of recurring cost, particularly for lower castes, female-headed households and tribals.
  • The subsidy allowed under the scheme is equal for all, irrespective of the varying socio-economic conditions. The economic inequalities lead to 32 per cent of Scheduled Caste (SC) households and 21 per cent of Scheduled Tribe (ST) households reporting LPG as their primary fuel for cooking, as opposed to 49 per cent of General households.
  • Despite having the same economic status, a lower proportion of households from SCs and STs are using LPG as primary cooking fuel across class categories. This suggests that households with intersecting vulnerabilities of caste and poor economic status would often not be able to afford to pay for LPG refills.
  • There is a state-wide variation in the rate of home delivery of cylinders. This suggests that states like Jharkhand with a predominant population of ST households would experience low home delivery than West Bengal.
  • Among PMUY customers home delivery also varies by social groups - ST households having the worst rate of home deliveries across the six states.
  • While women were at the centre of the scheme, it overlooked two important factors that influence intra-household decision making. The inability of women to travel to the dealer location with heavy LPG cylinders and limited decision making power within the household adds to the average delay in the purchase of refills, thereby forcing households to stack cooking fuels.
  • The scheme is not gender-transformative in its approach. The narrative around the scheme reinforces inequalities of gender to the extent it promotes women as the primary cooks within households through its advertisements.

Key Recommendations

  • Introduce a tiered subsidy mechanism acknowledging that marginalised caste groups need greater support than the middle class to use LPG on a regular basis.
  • Waive off the loans for targeted communities known to be the most marginalised, or offer additional support in the distribution of LPG at the state-level.
  • Directly debit the value of a subsidised cylinder from the bank account or use digital vouchers to reduce high upfront expense.
  • Oil marketing companies could design a different distribution model to provide easy home delivery to ST and SC communities despite lower refill rates.
  • Provide additional incentives per refill to small distributors that serve PMUY households in rural and remote areas to account for the higher transportation cost, lower customer density and lower refill rates compared to those for urban distributors.
  • Integrate gender and caste assessment in the impact evaluation of policies to strengthen the implementation and address the ensuing inequities in access.
While women were at the centre of the scheme, it overlooked two important factors that influence intra-household decision making - the inability of women to travel to the dealer location with heavy LPG cylinders and limited decision making power within the household.

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