New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to give liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to the poor without upfront charges is gaining the scale of a flagship entitlement scheme akin to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) piloted by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
The Ujjwala scheme of distributing clean cooking fuel to women in poor households launched in May by Modi is set to cross 1 crore connections this week, with states in the east, north-east and hilly regions being the biggest beneficiaries, a person involved in implementing the scheme said on condition of anonymity.
Poll-bound Uttar Pradesh is the largest beneficiary state with 34 lakh poor women getting the connection, followed by states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha.
Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the north-eastern states too have got priority status under the scheme with no cap on the number of connections to be issued. Members of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities are the major beneficiaries of the scheme.
Interestingly, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had performed well in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, the party wants to consolidate its position in states like Odisha and make further inroads into the north-east which together comprise 25 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP is in power in Assam. It also partners government in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
Similarly, West Bengal and Odisha remain crucial for the BJP because the two states together control 63 Lok Sabha seats.
Jammu & Kashmir is also a priority area for the BJP where it had won seats in Jammu and Ladakh regions, while the party continued its dismal performance in the Kashmir valley where it drew a blank. The performance was repeated in December 2014 when BJP won seats in Jammu but didn’t open an account in the Valley.
The steps taken by the NDA is also crucial because the BJP leadership hopes to play a decisive role in the assembly elections in states like Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Uttar Pradesh and north-eastern states in the next two years.
States are given priority status if LPG use is less than the national average of 61% of households. Geographically and economically-challenged states received priority as LPG access has been less in those regions.
“Our target for the current financial year is 1.5 crore connections. We have already cleared applications more than that and are working towards releasing all of that shortly. In a day or two, we will cross the one crore mark," explained the person quoted above.
To make sure that all the households that are given connections get easy refills, oil companies Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd are adding the number of distributors.
This year, the companies added 300 distributorships and more than 1,600 applications are being processed. Companies have also identified 400 locations for new distributors in Uttar Pradesh.
The drive to promote LPG as a clean cooking fuel is altering the country’s energy mix resulting in higher import of LPG and sufficient kerosene for industrial purposes as well as for exports. The drive is also part of a strategy to veer the country towards a gas-based economy in light of the climate change action plan.
According to Kalpana Jain, senior director, Deloitte in India, how well gas is absorbed in the economy is a function of infrastructure available to take the fuel to the consumption points.