New Delhi: Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), the welfare scheme brought by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government akin to the previous regime’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, promising energy security to the poor, has covered more than 2 crore households within 11 months of launch.
The scheme, which offers liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to women below poverty line without upfront charges, exceeded its target for the 2016-17 fiscal of 1.5 crore connections in eight months since its launch last May and is gathering pace as access to clean energy has been set as a priority in the hydrocarbon sector.
The budget for the scheme was revised to Rs2,500 crore for the first year, up from Rs2,000 crore earmarked originally.
The scheme aimed at giving rural folks relief from smoke in the kitchen and the ailments it brings, bolstered Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pro-poor pitch in the recent assembly polls including in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state accounting for about 30% of the Ujjwala beneficiaries.
BJP created history by winning 312 of the 403 assembly seats in UP, while the Samajwadi Party (SP) was reduced to just 47 seats. SP leaders concede that the Ujjwala scheme may have had a part to play in BJP’s victory.
“Even though the SP government had also launched many welfare schemes like the Samajwadi Pension Yojana, the Ujjwala Yojana resonated well with people as the Central government was quick in distributing cylinders to the beneficiaries and the people had the product in front of them in no time," said an SP leader from Lucknow, on the condition of anonymity.
Besides UP, the other major beneficiaries include Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Priority is given to states where LPG penetration is below the national average of 61% of households.
An oil ministry statement said that in FY17, three fuel retailers Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd have issued a total 3.25 crore new connections, the highest number of connections given in any year ever, including the connections under the Ujjwala scheme.
As a result, LPG coverage in the country has jumped to 72.8% with 19.88 crore active consumers as on 1 April. Universalization of clean cooking fuel is being supported by oil companies by setting up more LPG production and bottling units, transportation facilities and recruiting more dealers across the country.
“Our first year target for the scheme launched last May was 1.5 crore, which we managed to achieve by December. It is a phenomenal social transformation programme. By providing access to clean energy, we are also preventing people from using firewood which pollutes the air and leads to ailments. It also frees up time for women, a part of which could be used for productive purposes like starting a cottage industry," said B. Ashok, chairman, IOC, the largest refiner.
Expanding LPG use and the government’s rural lighting programme also help in reducing the requirement of kerosene, a part of the supply of which through state-level public distribution channel is believed to be diverted for adulteration of diesel.