Development is the expansion of people’s capabilities (Sen, 1999). Sen highlights in his book “Development as Freedom,1999” that development is not measured in terms of the economic growth of a country but instead measured in terms of the increase in the capabilities they possess. Capabilities are different for both the rich and poor due to differences in race, class, education, health and income. In a country like India this difference is mostly predominant since about 70% of the population of India constitute the people residing in rural areas (Ministry of Home Affairs, Government Of India, 2011) out of which about 216.7 million are poor (Planning Commission, Government of India, 2014). The poor are trapped in a vicious circle not only due to dearth of resources but also due to inability to procure benefits out of those available to them. This means even if they have goods or resources available, they can’t be used due to lack of command on these resources. Energy is the primary resource that drives development, however, there is lack of access to this quintessential good due to exorbitant price attached to it. Energy poverty is far more acute in rural India compared to the urban India (Kumar, 2017).

“Energy does not include only supply or consumption, it also includes energy services. It has been found that energy services can improve the Human Development Index .To achieve this, the focus has to be on energy services that improve the HDI directly (cooking, safe water, lighting, transportation, etc.) as well as indirectly via employment and income generation (motors, process heat, etc.)” (Reddy, 1999).

Rural energy being highly inefficient, unequally distributed and environmentally polluting thus decreases the capabilities of the rural poor by making them more susceptible to health issues and compelling them to use efficient and cleaner energy, which they cannot afford. Therefore, if we strive to decrease the vulnerability of the rural population by providing them with efficient and cleaner energy, we can sail towards an India which is more ‘developed’. Development in this context refers to increasing the ability of poor to earn more money, decreasing their dependence on public and private programs and supplementing them with knowledge so that they can take their own decisions.

People in rural areas are heavily dependent on biomass based fuels and around 78 % of the rural households use fuelwood for cooking purposes (Malhotra & Rehman, 2002). Other fuels used for cooking include crop residues and dung cakes. The reasons for extensive use of these fuels is possibly due to the ease of availability and the low cost. But, the use of such fuels becomes a problem when they are burnt in inefficient wood stoves which leads to incomplete combustion of fuels and generation of harmful pollutants like particulates, carbon monoxide and other cancerous pollutants. These pollutants pose health risk and also pollute the environment. A study conducted in rural households of Himalayas gave the results that the total burden of disease due to the use of fuelwood in that region was approximately 2506 DALY lost and 89 deaths which included a high share of deaths due to Acute lower respiratory infection (Pandey, 2012). Kerosene is another fuel which is used for lightening in rural areas. Estimates suggest that around 62% of the rural household use kerosene for lighting (National Sample Survey Organisation, 1997).

The World Bank estimates that “780 million women and children breathing particulate laden kerosene fumes inhale the equivalent of smoke from two packs of cigarettes a day”. Also, the rural people cannot afford buying a proper bottle and wick to burn the kerosene oil which leads to frequent accidents and burns. The numerous negative impacts of these fuels thus suggest that there is a dire need of switching to cleaner, safer and sound energy.
Looking at the plethora of problems associated to the current rural energy profile the best solution lies in mainstreaming rural energy advancement initiatives with national development plans. Integration of both the elements is important because both of them aim to reduce the vulnerability of people, especially the poor who have a lower adaptive capacity. This will not only help to enhance resilience but also ensure ‘no -regret development’. The development must start at grassroot level and should ensure that local bodies like the panchayats and other rural communities participate and extract maximum benefits out of the initiatives in place. An example of such an initiative is the Bachat Lamp Yojana started in 2009.

It was one of the biggest CDM projects sponsored by The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) which aimed to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient CFL’s in the selected villages (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 2010). The villagers were promoted to buy the CFL’s by reducing its price to Rs 15 which is equivalent to the price of incandescent light bulb. The price difference was thus borne by electricity distribution companies who wanted extract carbon credits from the project. This example rightly illustrates the fact that the new energy services to be introduced in the rural areas should not only reduce the drudgery of people but also be low cost which can be afforded by all. Implementing a high cost energy service would thus be wasteful. An energy service should not only cater to produce sustainability and reduce health risk but also provide some co-benefits. It should be such that it enhances the capabilities of rural people by generating employment opportunities for them. This is another way by which we can increase the economic development of India.

The UP Jatropha Mission explains how production of clean energy can be coupled to increase of employment opportunities and income generation among the poor. The mission was started in 2006 and aimed to extract biodiesel by growing energy crops like Jatropha curcas in the wastelands and degraded lands of Uttar Pradesh (Jetropha Mission Cell, Government of Uttar Pradesh, 2006). The farmers were willing to adopt and work for the change as they could now use the degraded lands that were previously abandoned and of no use to them. The farmers thus started growing Jatropha and extracting Biodiesel. Though Jatropha plantation mission has been discontinued lately due to low yields but during the period it was being practised it helped the farmers earn money by commercialising biodiesel in market. Such an intervention thus helps to drive development and help in income generation.

Energy inequality is one of the major reasons that escalates the problems of the rural poor. The distribution of energy is inequitable which means that the affluent sections of the society have a higher access to modern energy as compared to the poorer sections of the society. Energy inequality is not only studied in terms of access to fuels but also in terms of quantity of fuel used, type of fuel and price of fuel. A study used Gini coefficient to estimate the extent of energy inequality between the urban and rural population in India. “Gini coefficients show that inequality is very prominent in the distribution of modern fuels like LPG and Electricity which indicates that lowest income groups still lack access to modern efficient and clean fuels” (Ganesan, 2014). So, an energy service should ensure that the benefits are distributed equally among all sections of the population to ensure homogenous development.

Capacity building and awareness plays an equally significant role in progressing towards development. Merely providing the poor with energy and other assets is not enough. Higher wages and better technology would be wasteful if communities lack skills or capacity to use them. People will be happy using bio- digesters provided by the government initially, but eventually when they encounter some problems in the working of the digester, they would have no one to look up to since the repair process is expensive. Also, the working condition of the digester further deteriorates due to their inadequacy towards handling of the equipment. The result is ultimately withdrawal of the use of the technology. Providing knowledge about the working of the digester, it’s maintenance and repair can help to solve such problems and provide long lasting environmentally sustainable energy options.

1: Vulnerability refers to a state of being susceptible to damage, disease or injury
2: Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY): It is a measure of disease burden which is expressed as the number of years lost due to disease, disability or an early death.
3: Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties
4: No-regret development: It is a type of development which would provide us with benefits even in the absence of climate change. This means that even if one fine day Earth’s temperature comes back to normal and things start to normalise, switching to energy efficient service systems would still provide benefits that the traditional system could not.
5: Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects: These are projects which aim to cut down greenhouse gas emissions and provide Certified Emission reduction units which can be traded in market.
6: Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY): It is a measure of disease burden which is expressed as the number of years lost due to disease, disability or an early death.
7: Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties
Energy crop: Any crop which is domesticated to exploit its energy content.
8: Gini Coefficient: It is a statistical parameter used to assess income inequality. For this particular study, the parameter was used to find out energy inequality.

About Aanchal Pruthi

Greenubuntu Evangelist Aanchal Pruthi is an environmental enthusiast currently pursuing her Masters in Climate Science and Policy from the TERI School of Advanced Studies. She has worked on a range of Environmental concerns like Climate Change, Wet waste conversion and Biofuels. She wants to contribute to the mitigation efforts being taken up by organisations and encourage people to take up an environmentally deterministic approach in their life.