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The Government of India, at all levels, announces Welfare Schemes for a cross section of the society from time to time. These schemes could be either Central, State specific or a joint collaboration between the Centre and the States. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a Central scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, was launched by Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1st May, 2016 in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. The objective of the scheme is to provide women from below poverty line (BPL) households with connections of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), a clean cooking fuel, in order to safeguard the health of women and children and prevent health hazards posed by smoky kitchens and visits to unsafe areas for firewood collection. The scheme was expected to be beneficial for the ‘Make in India’ campaign as the cylinders, gas stoves, regulators and gas hoses are to be manufactured domestically. Moreover, a boost in employment opportunities was also expected as the scheme was likely to provide business opportunity of at least ₹ 10,000 Cr.
Recently, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the PMUY Scheme completed four years of operation. In response to these challenging times, free cooking gas cylinders under the scheme were announced by the Finance Minister as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package for coronavirus relief to the poor. Herein, more than 8 crore beneficiaries of the PMUY scheme would be provided with three free 14.2-kg LPG cylinders between April to June. As of mid-May i.e., halfway through the 3-month scheme, 6.8 crore free cylinders have been distributed to over 8 crore PMUY beneficiaries.
Salient features and main provisions
Aim of PMUY: The PMUY aims at replacing unclean cooking fuels used in the poorest households with clean and more efficient LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). When launched in 2016, its objective was to provide 5 crore LPG connections to women from BPL households by 2019. Subsequently, its target has been revised to cover 8 crore households by 2020.
Need for PMUY: According to WHO estimates, about 5 lakh deaths in India are due to polluting cooking fuels. Moreover, having an open fire in the kitchen has been held to be equivalent of burning 400 cigarettes an hour. Therefore, the primary reason behind the PMUY Scheme was to end the drudgery of the Indian rural women who cook on firewood and eliminate the health hazards faced by them. Furthermore, it also empowers women by issuing LPG connections under their name and provides employment opportunities in the cooking gas supply chain to the rural youth. Lastly, the switch to cleaner fuels also aids in reduction of environmental pollution.
Target Beneficiaries: Initially, the PMUY Scheme covered BPL families from the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011 List after due verification, KYC seeding, NIC & internal duplication checks and finally distribution of the connections through public melas. The second phase of PMUY expanded the scope of the scheme and introduced seven new categories of beneficiaries – Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe Households, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), Forest Dwellers, Most Backward Classes, Tea & Ex-Tea Garden Tribes and People residing in River Islands and Islands.
Benefits provided under PMUY: Under the scheme, an LPG connection is released in the name of the adult woman of the family provided that no connection exists in the name of any member of the family. PMUY provides beneficiaries with one-time cash assistance of ₹ 1,600 per LPG connection to help poor households with the high initial cost of purchasing LPG connection. The cost of ₹ 1600 borne by the Government includes a cylinder, pressure regulator, booklet, safety hose, etc. Although, the cost of Hot Plate and purchase of first refill is to be borne by the beneficiary, the scheme provides for the option to take the Hot Plate or the first refill or both on loan basis from Public Sector Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) at zero interest rate.
Implementation of modalities
- A woman of the BPL household, that does not have access to LPG connection can apply for a new LPG connection (in the prescribed format) to the LPG distributor.
- Details of BPL Card, Address, Jandhan/ Bank Account and Aadhar number are to be provided with the application form.
- The BPL family has choice to choose as per their requirement from three packages based on life and recurring cost for using LPG. The three options are 5 kg SBC, 14.2 kg SBC and 5 kg DBC.
- The LPG connection will be issued by OMCs to beneficiaries after due verification of their eligibility from the documents submitted by them.
- OMCs will organize ‘Melas’ at various locations to release the LPG connections.
- OMCs have to create a revolving fund using their own resources for providing EMIs to the beneficiaries.
- OMCs are not obliged to entertain connection transfer requests. However, in case of death, connection along with the outstanding loan is to be transferred preferably to women legal heir.
- When a connection is surrendered, the security amount towards cylinder is to be deposited in a separate account by the OMC and additional LPG connections are to be released from this account.
Progress under PMUY Scheme
The programme, launched in 2016, soon gained traction and in 2018 its ambit was expanded to include 8 crore poor households by 2020 with an additional allocation of ₹ 4,800 crore to the initial allocation of 8,000 crore. The 8 crore target was achieved seven months ahead of schedule in September 2019. So far, the PMUY scheme has benefitted 1.46 crore BPL families in Uttar Pradesh, 88 lakh in West Bengal, 85 lakhs in Bihar, 71 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 63 lakh in Rajasthan. Notwithstanding the tremendous increase in LPG connections across India, only three States (Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh) and five Union Territories (Delhi, Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Dadar & Nagar Haveli, Andaman & Nicobar Island and Puducherry) are kerosene-free.
Implementation of PMUY Scheme resulted in an increased nationwide LPG coverage of 96.9% (except Jammu & Kashmir). In light of the same, the Petroleum Ministry has stated that the scheme is no longer running and present allocation of funds is to meet the arrears in the reimbursement of expenditure. Further, it was stated no proposal to extend the scheme to cover the remaining 3% of population has been tabled yet. The Parliamentary Committee on Petroleum, distraught with the closure of the scheme, suggested that the scheme should be extended to poor households in urban and semi-urban slum areas to achieve higher LPG coverage of the population by providing connections to households that do not have LPG.
In order to critically analyze the provisions of the scheme and its impact, it is essential to bear in mind that access to LPG connection does not necessarily imply its usage. Usage of LPG is based on various factors like upfront connection costs, recurring costs, service delivery and supply security at the household-level, geography (ease of access to traditional biomass or solid fuels), etc.
The implementation modality of the PMUY scheme primarily focused on eliminating the upfront connection cost or the high cost of entry, which is the most significant impediment to using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for poor households in India, by providing cash assistance. The recurring cost incurred in refilling LPG cylinders is not adequately subsidized by the scheme. When it comes to the cylinder refill rate under the scheme, the average was found to be 3 refills per annum as opposed to the national average of 7 refills. Furthermore, it has been stated by the Petroleum Ministry that high cost of refills for 14.2 kg cylinder is one of the primary reasons for the low usage. Since 5 kg cylinders provide an affordable refill option, the government was quick to introduce 5 kg cylinders to tackle the low usage issue.
Furthermore, with respect to supply security, the time taken to refill a cylinder ranges from a few days to around two weeks. Moreover, doorstep delivery is not done in rural areas thereby increasing the costs of the customers. Additionally, women in rural areas become dependent on men for transportation of cylinder as they are not allowed to travel alone. The supply insecurity, therefore, can deter the use of LPG in rural areas. The Scheme provides for new connections to be installed within 7 days from the day of providing of details. However, report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana states that only 19% of the connections were installed within 7 days and 47% connections were installed in more than 30 days.
India being the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the PMUY was viewed as an instrument to help reduce pollution. However, reports indicate that about half of the population of India still uses solid fuels. Moreover, in 2019, household air pollution accounted for 80% of the deaths caused by air pollution. It is, therefore, clear that households are shifting from LPG to other unclean fuels. Additionally, the Scheme does not provide for performance indicators to evaluate its outcomes in terms of improvement in health of women and decrease in air pollution. It is, therefore, suggested that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas formulate these indicators to enable assessment of the scheme’s outcomes. Based on the consumption patterns, the issue of diversion of cylinders for commercial uses is also prominent. Therefore, high consumption cases must be reviewed regularly to curb such misuse through diversion of cylinders.
Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), NDA government’s flagship program, has provided great relief to families below poverty line (BPL), especially women in terms of their health and empowerment. However, despite the increase in LPG connections, the continued heavy reliance on solid fuels indicates the shortcomings of the PMUY Scheme in terms of subsidizing refill cost and improving delivery. The focus of the government, therefore, must now shift from accessibility of LPG to usage of LPG and also sustain continued use of LPG in PMUY beneficiaries’ households. Furthermore, performance indicators to assess the outcomes of the Scheme in terms of its aim and objective must also be developed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. With only three States and five Union Territories being kerosene-free, there is a dire need for a reformed PMUY Scheme with amended provisions and objectives aiming at sustained LPG usage in poor households.
Author: Priyanshi Rastogi from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA.
Editor: Priyanshu Grover from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh.