New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said welfare schemes will be designed keeping the poor, rather than the ballot box, in mind. His government will ensure that all schemes including free cooking gas connections for poor households and village electrification are implemented within set time frames.

Launching the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana on Sunday from Ballia district in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where only eight households in 100 have access to cooking gas, Modi said 50 million poor women will be given liquified petroleum gas (LPG) connections without upfront security deposits over the next three years. They will also get subsidy for the fuel in their bank accounts. Assembly elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh next year.

The twin goals of giving cooking gas connections without upfront payment and subsidy transfer to the bank accounts of the women will be accomplished by 2 October 2019, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Modi said. He also made a veiled criticism of the opposition Congress party, saying that welfare schemes were devised with an eye on the ballot box in the past. This, he said, led to their poor implementation.

“Within three years, we will give LPG connections to five crore women. This is not a small task. We are committed to working and delivering on our promises in a time bound manner…We are determined to fight poverty," Modi said, adding that women who cook using conventional fuel such as firewood are exposed to fumes equivalent to 400 cigarettes a day.

According to Kirk R. Smith, professor of Global Environmental Health, University of California Berkeley, use of biomass and coal for cooking leads to over 900,000 premature deaths each year in India. “There are five important diseases that have been established to be caused by exposure to combustion pollution whether as outdoor air pollution, tobacco smoke, or household stove smoke—pneumonia in young children; and chronic lung disease, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adults," said Smith.

The government wants to increase the use of LPG from 165 million customers now, accounting for about 60% of households, as the entire economy makes a gradual shift to less polluting sources of energy. The oil ministry wants to issue 100 million new LPG connections to customers in three years including the 50 million connections to women from poor households.

The government has allocated 8,000 crore for the Ujjwala Yojana, which is partly funded by savings from the subsidy given up by economically well-off customers under the “Giveitup" campaign. “Over 1 crore consumers have given up their subsidy leading to savings of nearly 2,000 crore a year. This money will be utilized to provide LPG connections to families below poverty line," said Modi.

While the administrative cost of 1,600 per connection and other expenses will be borne by the government, customers have the option to purchase gas stove and refills on instalments, said a statement from fuel retailer Indian Oil Corp. Ltd.

The Prime Minister said the government is also working on electrifying all villages in India by 2019. Out of the 18,400 un-electrified villages identified under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana launched on 25 July, more than 7,500 have been electrified.

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