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CAG report raises concerns about Ujjwala scheme

While the clean fuel protects the users from the hazards of smoke inhalation, it also helps the poor from having to go to unsafe areas to collect firewood. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)Premium
While the clean fuel protects the users from the hazards of smoke inhalation, it also helps the poor from having to go to unsafe areas to collect firewood. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

  • The government is of the view that Ujjwala is part of the ambitious agenda for behavioural change that will help India transit to a $5 trillion economy by 2024
  • This comes in the backdrop of the Ujjwala scheme that provides free cooking gas connections to poor families

NEW DELHI : The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has expressed concerns over National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s marquee Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) in terms of low consumption, diversions and considerable delays in supply of cylinders.

This comes in the backdrop of the Ujjwala scheme that provides free cooking gas connections to poor families; hailed as the NDA government’s version of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and a mainstay of the BJP's political messaging. Launched from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh—the state that sends the largest number of MPs to Parliament—the Rs12,800 crore scheme has increasingly been leveraged to add to the political optics.

In a Performance Audit Report, the government’s audit watchdog said that encouraging the sustained usage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) remains a big challenge as the annual average refill consumption of PMUY consumers on 31 December 2018 was only 3.21. Also, low consumption of refills by 0.92 crore consumers who had availed loans, hindered recovery of outstanding loan of Rs1234.71 crore.

“Encouraging the sustained usage of LPG remains a big challenge as the annual average refill consumption of 1.93 crore PMUY consumers (who have completed more than one year as on 31 March 2018) was only 3.66 refills as worked out by audit. Similar analysis for 3.18 crore PMUY beneficiaries as on 31 December 2018 revealed that refill consumption declined to 3.21 refills per annum," the report said.

The government, on its part, claims that around 87% beneficiaries have returned for at least second refill, with the total number of refills including installation against PMUY connections crossing more than 40 crore.

While the clean fuel protects the users from the hazards of smoke inhalation, it also helps the poor from having to go to unsafe areas to collect firewood.

The report titled ‘Performance Audit of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana’ also highlighted deficiencies such as the issuance of connections to unintended beneficiaries, and problems with the software of the state run oil marketing companies for identifying intended beneficiaries and inadequacies in the de-duplication process. It also recommended the scrutiny of the entire LPG database to identify and restrict anomalies.

“Audit noticed that out of 3.78 crore LPG connections, 1.60 crore (42 per cent) connections were issued only on the basis of beneficiary Aadhaar which remained a deterrent in de-duplication," the report said and added, “PMUY envisaged release of LPG connection in the name of woman. However, audit observed that due to lack of input validation check in Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) software, 1.88 lakh connections were released against AHL TIN of males."

The CAG also recommended; entering Aadhaar numbers of all adult family members of existing as well as new beneficiaries to make de-duplication effective and appropriate measures in distributors’ software to restrict issuance to ineligible beneficiaries.

The scheme met its target of reaching 80 million poor families in September, seven months ahead of schedule. The programme, launched on 1 May 2016, aims to safeguard the health of women and children and lays the basis for a fundamental material transformation at the bottom of the pyramid by covering 715 districts has till date provided 80.33 million connections.

“Delay of more than 365 days was noticed in installation of 4.35 lakh connections against stipulated time period of seven days," the report said and added, “Delay of more than 10 days (ranging up to 664 days) was noticed in delivery of 36.62 lakh LPG refills against the stipulated delivery period of seven days."

A cash assistance of Rs1,600 is given to each beneficiary to get a deposit-free new connection, thereby helping improve energy access. The connections are given in the name of the women heads of households. The scheme gained traction with its ambit being expanded to include 80 million poor families from the earlier target of 50 million families with an additional allocation of Rs4,800 crore.

The government is of the view that Ujjwala is part of the ambitious agenda for behavioural change that will help India transit to a $5 trillion economy by 2024.

“In state such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where there is abundant availability of wood or other cooking fuel, the pace of refills is slow. In comparison, there are more refills happing in the plain areas. This is a gradual process with people’s behavior changing over a time. It is changing," said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

The report also drew attention to departure from safety norms by the LPG distributors, unsafe LPG practices by the scheme’s beneficiaries and inadequacy in providing affordable 5 kg cylinders. According to the report, only 92,005 (0.24 per cent of 3.78 crore connections) beneficiaries were provided 5 Kg cylinder connections.

“Risk of diversion of domestic cylinders for commercial use was noticed as 1.98 lakh PMUY beneficiaries had an average annual consumption of more than 12 cylinders which seems improbable in view of their BPL status. Similarly, 13.96 lakh beneficiaries consumed 3 to 41 refills in a month. Further, IOCL and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) in 3.44 lakh instances issued 2 to 20 refills in a day to a PMUY beneficiary having single bottle cylinder connection," the report said.

The Economic Survey released in July this year had also suggested a strategy tweak for improving the scheme’s efficacy by maintaining a centralized list of names of those who had given up their subsidies, independent of the gas company, and displaying their photographs.

“Rechecking of beneficiaries is happening and unintended beneficiaries are being removed. They are minimal and around 1.5%-2% of the connections," the official cited above added.

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