PM'S 'GiveItUp' offers hope
Prime Minister’s call to volunteer LPG subsidy for the needy ushers new optimism.
Sometimes tiny slogans work more than giant speeches, and our Prime Minister with his oratory capabilities seems to have excelled at both. Nobody knew the exact resultant when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a 'GiveItUp' call to the LPG consumers for volunteering their small LPG subsidy to a mother living below the poverty line; to mark the beginning of the end for an age-old poverty trap: collecting firewood and cow dung for cooking. But, it was undeniably some sort of an innovative approach to a blue-collar problem, indeed. And, even then delivering LPG reliably across India's vast hinterland would not be less than completing a Herculean task for the government, given the vast span of the sub-continent. Yet, it has so far been proved an inspiration for the people – who think of India and Indians.
This move has not only saved the poor women and often their children too, from spending hours every day hunting for firewood, along with that the risk of troubles from predatory men has also been sharply reduced. As a result, they can now get better opportunities for more productive work. If the studies cited by the government are any indication, half a million Indian women die each year as a result of respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling noxious smoke. The smoke from firewood is equivalent to smoking 4o cigarettes a day- a clear indicator of the dangers of the age old peril. The public has responded enthusiastically to a campaign this year to use Rs 8362.25 crore, part of a windfall from the drop in the price of oil (of which India imports 81per cent of its needs), to provide the needy with cleaner-burning subsidized liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
The International Energy Agency (IEA) categorically said that India, which currently consumes less energy per person than Africa, would become the engine of worldwide growth in terms of demand for oil, by the mid-2020s as its economy is growing and its population is becoming the largest in the world. Over the past decade, China has recorded 60 per cent of the world's growth in oil consumption, helping to mount up the prices until they collapsed in 2014. Though Chinese growth would slow down and the oil intensity of both these population giant's economy would decline, the IEA, in forecasts that assume the 2ºC global-warming target will not be met, reckons that by 2040 China will consume 4.1m b/d more than it does now, and India 6m b/d.
Yet the industry's prospects in developing countries may not be as uniformly rosy till we all pull our socks to counter the dearth of oil stock in the country. As in India, air pollution and congestion in the biggest cities are already appalling; we need to develop our own model to reduce global warming. India still relies on coal for 58 per cent of its primary energy needs. It hopes to reduce its dependence on oil (28 per cent of the mix) by 10 per cent by 2022, and plans to double the share of natural gas from 7 per cent to 15 per cent. It intends to rely increasingly on liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of oil. Within six years it aims to increase its capacity by more than double, to turn LNG back into piped gas, and has plans to lay 15,000km of new gas pipelines.
The time has arrived that we need to change power-generation in India into a gas-based economy. The change of direction is already visible on the streets of New Delhi. All public transport, taxis, rickshaws and many private cars have been converted to compressed natural gas (CNG), which is cheaper, cleaner and much less polluting, than diesel or petrol. Gradually CNG pumps can be seen dotting the streets of the national capital, with queues of autos and taxis patiently waiting to be served.
The government is also developing LNG as an alternative to diesel in long-distance trucking, working with Tata, the country's largest conglomerate. Not only that, there are also eventual plans to use bamboo, and other natural products to produce bio-fuels such as ethanol to blend with petrol.
In recent years it has scrapped subsidies for petrol and diesel, and by 2020 it hopes to tighten up the fuel-efficiency standards for the country's vehicle fleet. All this will be hard to pull off, but suggests that India's demand for oil may be more constrained than the industry hopes.
(Sanjeev K Jha is a senior journalist. Views expressed are strictly personal.)