A poor 45-year-old widower in Uttar Pradesh must consider marrying a second time to keep his home fire burning, but his four children are against the idea of having a stepmother.
A bizarre dilemma haunts Puttilal Gautam, a Dalit landless daily wage worker of Judhaura village in Sitapur district, about 90km from Lucknow.
Government rules demand he must have a wife to get a free cooking gas connection under a welfare scheme, called Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), launched this May. His daughters cannot apply either; they are too young.
He has been doing the rounds since, but each time he visited the distributor of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) canisters in his area, he was turned back.
“They told me to send my wife with relevant documents. I told them my wife died and I have four children to look after. But they won’t listen … a rule is a rule,” Gautam said.
Gauri, his wife, died of illness two years ago, leaving him to take care of their two young sons and two daughters.
“I have to purchase wood and kerosene from the market to cook food. I cannot afford to purchase wood; the price rose to Rs 500 a quintal because of the rain,” he said.
He often sends his children to collect twigs and leaves from forests nearby. His daughters help him cook on a mud stove. “After cooking for the family, I go to work,” he said.
The desperate father approached the village council for help. He requested fellow villagers to put pressure on the administration. The villagers advised him to remarry.
“My children rejected the proposal. They don’t want a stepmother. My sons told me that they would collect wood and the daughters would help me cook,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Rs 8,000-crore cooking gas scheme from Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia to provide 50 million free cooking gas connections to poor families over the next three years. Money saved from more than 11 million cooking gas users voluntarily giving up their subsidies will essentially fund the scheme, which is also an attempt to streamline a bloated and inefficient welfare system.
But much like everything else in India, the scheme for households living below the poverty line is caught in bureaucratic rules, which are invincible for poor, semi-literate people like Gautam.
“The guidelines are against a widower. The Prime Minister must amend the rules. After the wife’s death, the burden of feeding the children is on the father. An LPG connection comes for Rs 5,000 in the market. I can’t afford it. Under the PMUY, it’s free,” Gautam said.
He is the odd man out in a village where 25 Dalit women were given LPG connections under the scheme.
Village headwoman Rampyari said: “He has been denied since he is a widower. The rules clearly state only eligible women candidates from BPL families can apply for the scheme.”
She had a word with the district administration and Indian Oil Corporation officers.
“The list of beneficiaries cannot be amended to include a widower. Remarriage is the sole option left for Puttilal to get an LPG connection,” she said.