Ujjwala LPG scheme to cover all poor households
Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan expressed confidence the Ujjwala scheme coverage will reach the 6 crore mark by December end.
The Centre on Monday announced expansion of one of its most popular subsidy programmes under which free cooking gas connections are provided to poor women. It now plans the universal coverage of the Ujjwala scheme, which currently covers 5.86 crore households.
Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan expressed confidence the coverage will reach the 6 crore mark by December end. “We already have the budget to provide gas connections to 8 crore households. If we achieve our target, we would be able to cover around 99% of the [poor] households,” Pradhan said.
The cabinet committee on economic affairs’ (CCEA) decision to expand the Ujjwala coverage comes amid the government’s renewed efforts to reach out to the poor and rural population ahead of the next year’s general election.
The move also signals the government’s willingness to offer more sops to woo the poor. It comes in the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) loss in assembly elections held in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh in November and December. The BJP has been reaching out to the beneficiaries of myriad flagship programmes of the government to expand its support base.
Pradhan underlined only 13 crore out of the total 27 crore household had LPG connections when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. “In the past 4.5 years, additional 12 crore connections have been added,’’ he said. Pradhan added 5.86 of these connections have been added under the Ujjwala scheme.
“The LPG penetration has gone up from 55% in 2014 to 90% in the last four-and-a-half years.”
The Ujjwala scheme, which was launched on May 1, 2016, has been one of Modi’s pet schemes.
“Through [the Ujjwala scheme] deposit-free LPG connections are released with the cash assistance of ~16,007 per connection by Government of India and also interest-free loans [are provided] to purchase stoves and refill by Oil Marketing Companies. … so far, more than 5.86 crore LPG connections have been released under PMUY [Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana] against the target of 8 crore. 48% of the beneficiaries are SC/STs [scheduled castes and scheduled tribes],” a government release said.
Hyderabad-based Action for Rural Advancement’s Anita Rodriguez said the real challenge is not giving free LPG connections, which are quite achievable, but ensuring they are used on a sustained basis. “There is data available on inactive connections. We need more study of inactive connections to determine issues like sustained affordability for the poor.”
She cited the 2011 Census and said a large number of households used traditional polluting stoves that adversely impact health.
The CCEA also cleared a petroleum ministry’s proposal to release deposit free LPG connections to poor families, which have not been considered earlier for the scheme.
A government release said households, whose names were not covered either in Socio-Economic Caste Census or did not come under seven categories like SC/ST, were earlier not be eligible for the scheme.
It said that these households will now be included “subject to fulfilling the eligibility norms and after furnishing required documents.”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the government wants to offer more sops as the national election nears. “They are set to breach the fiscal deficit target and thus they want to tap the RBI’s [Reserve Bank of India] reserve fund for these sops.”