“As a young boy growing up in rural India with frequent power cuts, I never imagined that India would one day be able to announce a plan to supply electricity to all rural homes. But the tide has been changing ever since the 1990s when India embarked on economic liberalization.”
“India’s budget makes clear that the world’s largest democracy and one of its largest consumers of fossil fuels has openly declared its intent to promote the utilization of fossil fuel resources.”
The Indian government announced in early July that it will strive to ensure adequate housing, together with access to reliable electricity and clean cooking facilities, for all families in rural India by 2022.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament that the goal was 100 percent electrification of all rural households—a critical need where people still die from indoor air pollution from primitive firewood-based cooking. She said, “Every single rural family except those who are unwilling to take the connection, will have electricity and a clean cooking facility.”
But how can India, a country with 1.3 billion people and still relatively early in development, achieve this switch to clean cooking methods?
The answer lies in India’s unabashed allegiance to fossil fuels. Coal, which currently supplies nearly 75 percent of India’s electricity, is expected to satisfy most of India’s increased power needs, with the rest supplied by oil and natural gas.
As a young boy growing up in rural India with frequent power cuts, I never imagined that India would one day be able to announce a plan to supply electricity to all rural homes. But the tide has been changing ever since the 1990s when India embarked on economic liberalization.
India’s dreams of producing electricity for 1.3 billion people came true in 2016 when the country announced an energy surplus, i.e. energy production exceeded the demand for it. The country credited this success to its strong coal industry, which saw significant growth even as the anti-fossil global establishments were keen on making the country abandon coal.
However, achieving an energy surplus is only the first step toward complete electrification. If the generated energy is to reach rural consumers, India needs a comprehensive infrastructure to support that. Development of that infrastructure has now become a priority in the budget.
The pre-budget economic survey, prepared by India’s Chief Economic Advisor, was foundational for today’s national budget. One of its conclusions is that, “The growth of the Indian economy will depend upon the ability to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to citizens and the country is required to raise per capita energy consumption by at least 2.5 times to increase per capita income by $5000.”
Among the different energy sources currently in use, only a few qualify to be reliable and affordable.
India’s budget makes clear that the world’s largest democracy and one of its largest consumers of fossil fuels has openly declared its intent to promote the utilization of fossil fuel resources. This flies in the face of energy commentators in Europe and elsewhere who have always touted India as a key player in their global emission reduction plans.
However, what really matters is the lives of those in rural India, where cooking facilities will be transformed by electrification and the substitution of affordable Liquified Petroleum Gas cylinders for the polluting firewood cooking methods now in use. Thus, the new India continues its march towards the greatest energy era in the nation’s history.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.