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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

'If the gas runs out, we are not going to sleep hungry': Exploring household energy choices in India's critically polluted coal belt

Chanchani, Devanshi; Oskarsson, Patrik


Despite a range of initiatives to introduce cleaner fuels, a large proportion of poor people in India continue to rely on solid fuels for cooking and heating, with severe implications for personal and family health. This paper seeks to open up the various fuel-supply strategies that underpin domestic energy use in low-income settings to explain the unconventional solutions (jugaad) that households employ to bridge the gap between energy needs and supply of various fuels, including liquefied petroleum gas. We draw on long-term ethnographic engagements in four severely polluted low-income urban settlements in central India’s coal belt to investigate how communities, and primarily women, ensure domestic energy provision. As households struggle to secure a range of potential fuels with different benefits and drawbacks, we outline the socio-cultural and economic processes that shape household energy decision-making. These highly uncertain processes take place within an institutional structure that offers some possibilities, but is overall too rigid to fit the lived realties of low-income residents. Although households commonly understand that there are negative health effects from solid-fuel smoke, pollution and health are only marginal considerations for households facing daily struggles to reduce expenses. We argue that understanding the everyday jugaad of household energy provision is crucial for the possibilities to shift away from fuels damaging to both human health and the environment.


Energy poverty; Feminist political ecology; Air pollution; Household fuel; Jugaad; India

Published in

Energy Research and Social Science
2021, Volume: 80, article number: 102181

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG7 Affordable and clean energy
    SDG5 Gender equality
    SDG1 No poverty

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Economic Geography

    Publication identifier


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