Ujjwala Scheme: Firing on all cylinders but losing spark over high dropout rate
Twenty-six months after its launch from Ballia in UP, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), which promised to rid rural women of the drudgery of smoky kitchens by providing LPG connections, appears to have fallen short in achieving its objective despite meeting the targets.
According to officials, more than one-third of the beneficiaries have not turned up for a refill in UP after free LPG connections were given to them.
The remaining beneficiaries, on an average, have taken only 2-3 refills in a year against the entitlement of a refill every month, they added.
This suggests that a considerable number of PMUY beneficiaries in UP continue to use conventional unclean fuel like firewood and cow dung cakes defeating the very purpose of the ambitious scheme.
Deputy general manager (LPG), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, UP, Y Srivastava said: “This may be either because of financial constraints or lack of awareness but this is true that very few PMUY beneficiaries are opting for regular refills. Majority of them either do not take any refills at all or only 2-3 in a year.”
“Though no state-wise or district-wise formal data on the LPG drop-outs under the PMUY has been maintained, it has been observed that on an average 30-40 % of the beneficiaries did not turn up for a second refill after they were given free LPG connection. About 40-60% of the beneficiaries take refills only twice or thrice a year,” Srivastava added.
He, however, said the situation varied from region to region, the worse being in Bundelkhand and Purvanchal.
For example, the refilling ratio was found very low in Jalaun, a district in Bundelkhand region.
“A very small number of PMUY beneficiaries come at our agency for regular refilling. More than 70% of them come only occasionally or do not come at all for refills,” said Devendra Yadav of Vijay Vikram Bharatgas, Orai.
The percentage was, however, found to be a bit higher in Hapur, a district in west UP. “Around 50% beneficiaries come for regular refilling but the rest do not,” said Prashant, proprietor of Dayal gas agency in Hapur.
Avnendra Singh, owner of Sitapur Bharat gas agency in Sitapur, 70 km from Lucknow, quoted alarming figures.
“We have 4,500 Ujjwala subscribers but of them only 450, that is 10%, come for refilling, and that too, occasionally,” he said.
LPG dealers and PMUY district nodal officers attribute the drop-outs to the poor paying capacity of beneficiaries, who, according to them, find the cylinder price to be a bit high.
“Most of the Ujjwala beneficiaries are poor. Our surveys reveal they find this out of their means to afford Rs 800 refilling cost every month, more so, when wooden sticks and cow dung cakes are available to them for free or at a lower price,” PMUY nodal officer, Sitapur, Ashwini Singh said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the PMUY from Ballia in east UP on May 1, 2016. Under the original scheme, the rural poor households were provided LPG connections with the central government giving them a subsidy of Rs 1,600. The beneficiaries were allowed to pay for the stove and the first refill in monthly instalments to be deducted from the monthly subsidy or they could also pay the first go.
The government had fixed the country-wide target of giving Ujjwala gas connections to five crore beneficiaries by 2018-19. As per the PMUY website, 4,86,60,000 LPG connections have already been released to the beneficiaries in the country and of them around 87 lakh are in UP alone, which is close to 18 of the country’s total Ujjwala connections.
The objective of the scheme, as stated on the website, is to safeguard the health of women and children by providing them clean cooking fuel so that their health is not compromised in smoky kitchens and they do not have to wander in unsafe areas to collect firewood.
An official in an oil company, who did not wish to be named, said: “Target-wise we are doing well and hope to cover all the eligible families by the end of the financial year. But we are missing out on the objective as a large number of beneficiaries are not getting refills and continuing firewood as fuel for cooking.”
However, IOC DGM Y Srivastava said it was not correct to say the scheme was failing in its objective.
“We should see the positive side. Many beneficiaries use LPG for cooking regularly or intermittently. As for the rest, it is also a question of mindset apart from economics. We are trying to persuade and convince them to use LPG,” he said.
“This is in keeping with the strategy that the government has now also introduced small LPG cylinders of five kg allowing beneficiaries to convert to it. Besides, the government in March also decided to start deducting monthly instalments as cost for stove from the subsidy after first six refills. These measures are already having positive impact,” he said.