New Delhi: Starting next month, nearly 25,000 women from below poverty line (BPL) households across five districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh will be able to replace their chulas—cooking stoves that use firewood or coal—with cooking gas cylinders.

The gas connections will be provided without any upfront security deposit to the oil marketing companies, said an oil ministry official, who did not want to be named. The five districts are Ballia, Goda, Dewri, Ghazipur and Mahu.

The welfare scheme will be launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ballia district under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), which was approved by the Union cabinet on 10 March and aims to provide liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections without security deposit to 50 million women from BPL households over the next three years.

The government has allocated 8,000 crore for this purpose and households will get equated monthly instalments to cover the cost of stove and gas refills.

Modi launching the welfare scheme in Uttar Pradesh assumes significance as the state is going to polls next year. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan will review the arrangements in Ballia on 23 April. These districts were chosen for the launch of the scheme as it is one of the regions where LPG consumption is very low, according to the oil ministry official quoted above.

The scheme is being launched in the backdrop of the government campaign to encourage the financially well-off to voluntarily forego LPG subsidy, which has elicited a huge response and freed up resources for the Ujjwala scheme.

“Over 97 lakh consumers have already voluntarily given up LPG subsidy under the ‘Giveitup’ campaign and it is likely that the number may exceed one crore by 1 May," said the official quoted above.

Modi launched the “Giveitup" campaign on March 27 last year so that the benefit could be given to the really needy, especially in rural areas, where LPG consumption is way behind the usage level in urban areas. The aim is to replace firewood, coal and other cooking materials that lead to health problems among women, with the clean fuel.

Experts on household energy use who have studied the energy mix in India, attribute about 900,000 premature deaths in India every year to the use of biomass and coal for cooking.

“About 700 million people have been using biomass cooking fuel in India for the last several decades. It is one of the most important health risk factors for women and children in the country among all those examined because nearly two-thirds of India’s households still use such fuels and experience high exposures to household pollution," said Kirk R. Smith, professor of global environmental health, University of California, Berkeley.

Smith said that it is likely that health will measurably improve in populations now using solid fuels if they switch entirely to clean fuel.

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 renewable and less polluting sources of energy.

The oil ministry wants to issue 100 million new LPG connections to customers in three years and this includes 50 million connections to women from BPL households. It is increasing the number of LPG dealers for the purpose.

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