NEW DELHI : As part of India’s strategy of practising a ‘softer and collaborative diplomacy’ wherein there is a ‘sense of partnership,’ state run Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) will help Ghana’s National Petroleum Authority (NPA) expand the country’s liquified petroleum gas (LPG) network.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) to this effect was inked on Wednesday which will provide for administrative assistance to IOC as and when it commercially participates in gas rich Ghana’s downstream petroleum sector.

The MoU comes in the backdrop of India’s success with its marquee Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) that provides clean fuel, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which seeks to invest about $8 trillion in infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and Africa. New Delhi is opposed to the BRI as it says the initiative lures countries into debt traps and does not respect sovereignty or address environmental concerns.

“In a step that will further strengthen the relations between India and Ghana, Indian Oil has signed a MoU with the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) of Ghana for providing its assistance and technical expertise in the implementation of Ghana’s National LPG Promotion Policy," India’s petroleum and natural gas ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Some of the big-ticket projects completed by India recently in Africa include the construction of the presidential office in Ghana, the National Assembly building in Gambia, and the Kosti power plant in Sudan. Africa is a key development partner of India, garnering a sizeable portion of India’s lines of credit assistance.

“With India’s emergence as a world leader in provision of clean energy to its citizens by the expansion of its LPG network, Ghana sought assistance from India in its own efforts to promote to safe, clean and environmentally friendly LPG for increased domestic, commercial and industrial usage," the statement added.

The Indian 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 and has made Ghana take a page out of India’s experience.

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

“In this regard, Indian Oil, the country’s flagship oil marketing company would on behalf of India provide support to the National Petroleum Authority of Ghana in several areas such as development of Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Standards, development of Licensing, permit and legal framework, development of economics for LPG bottling plant, pricing structure, and communication strategy. Indian Oil will also assist in areas of infrastructure development for the new LPG Value chain, support for upgrading capacities of institutions along with policy development and review," the statement said.

However, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has expressed concerns over PMUY in terms of low consumption, diversions and considerable delays in supply of cylinders. In a performance audit report, the government’s audit watchdog said 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.

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.

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.

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