New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is scaling up its outreach programme to connect with women, especially in rural India, who have received liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections without upfront payment under the Ujjwala scheme, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.

The initiative, led by the oil ministry, to create awareness about LPG use and its safety issues, will connect the user community to share experiences and indirectly send a strong message about the welfare credentials of the NDA government to the electorate.

On Tuesday, one such session, called “LPG panchayat" was held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters that 104 women from across the country participated in the event. The aim was to “provide a platform for LPG consumers to interact with each other, promote mutual learning and share experiences," an official statement said.

Later in the day, when the participants met Modi at his residence to share their experiences, the Prime Minister mentioned the Saubhagya Yojana, another pro-poor scheme of the government—promising power for all by December 2018, at a cost of over Rs16,000 crore.

The oil ministry is set to hold one lakh LPG panchayats across the country by 31 March 2019, around which time the country will be preparing for elections.

Also, eight states—Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh—are going to polls this year.

So far the ministry and oil companies have held about 350 such sessions in rural areas as well as in slums in urban areas, according to a person involved in implementing the scheme, who preferred not to be named.

The importance of the LPG outreach programme is evident from the fact that finance minister Arun Jaitley in his 2018-19 Union budget expanded the scope of Ujjwala to 80 million women, from 50 million earlier.

So far, over 33.5 million women have been given connections under the scheme, one of the most prominent welfare programmes of the Union government for poor women.

“When users share with others how much time has been saved by using LPG and how it has helped them to do productive and income-earning activities, it will encourage others to use LPG," said another official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pradhan said that families taking up LPG for cooking is not just an economic or administrative issue, but also a behavioural one.

Gyan Verma contributed to this story.

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