Never miss an opportunity, say experts. And following this to the ‘T’ is the communication team of the Modi government, it seems.

Check this out:

“Today, on Women’s Day, our Government has decided to reduce LPG cylinder prices by ₹100. This will significantly ease the financial burden on millions of households across the country, especially benefiting our Nari Shakti.

“By making cooking gas more affordable, we also aim to support the well-being of families and ensure a healthier environment. This is in line with our commitment to empowering women and ensuring ‘Ease of Living’ for them,” the Prime Minister had tweeted on March 8, 2024.

Critics said timing was perfect, as the stage was being set for the general elections and women are a powerful vote bank. Then there were those who said in this day and age why make this a women’s issue when men also cook.

A larger question is why do we assume that it is only women who benefit from such a move as in many cases the customer name is that of a man. And does a decision like this really fetch votes?

But before going ahead let us see the sequence of events. On March 7 the Union Cabinet approved the continuation of targeted subsidy of ₹300 per 14.2 kg cylinder (and proportionately pro-rated for 5 kg cylinder) for up to 12 refills per year to be provided to the beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) during FY 2024-25.

As on March 1 2024, there were more than 10.27 crore PMUY beneficiaries, according to a statement issued by the government on that day. Per latest data as on March 27, 2024 — 103,241,735 connections have been released.

“The total expenditure will be ₹12,000 crore for financial year 2024-25. The subsidy is credited directly to bank accounts of the eligible beneficiaries,” it said. To make LPG, a clean cooking fuel, available to the rural and deprived poor households, the government launched Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana in May 2016, to provide deposit free LPG connections to adult women of poor households.

Economic benefits

India imports about 60 per cent of its LPG requirement. To shield PMUY beneficiaries from the impact of sharp fluctuations in international LPG prices and to make it more affordable to PMUY consumers thereby ensuring its sustained usage by them, the government started a targeted subsidy of ₹200 per 14.2 kg cylinder for up to 12 refills per annum (and proportionately pro-rated for 5 kg connections) to the PMUY consumers in May 2022.

In October 2023, the government increased targeted subsidy to ₹300 per 14.2 kg cylinder for up to 12 refills per annum (and proportionately pro-rated for 5 kg connections).

The average LPG consumption of PMUY consumers has increased by 29 per cent from 3.01 refills in 2019-20 to 3.87 refills (till January 2024) prorated for 2023-24. All PMUY beneficiaries are eligible for this targeted subsidy, it said.

The narrative since it was launched in May 2016, by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MOPNG) has been to make clean cooking fuel such as LPG available to the rural and underprivileged households which were otherwise using traditional cooking fuels such as firewood, coal, cow-dung cakes etc. Usage of traditional cooking fuels had a detrimental impact both on the health of rural women as well as on the environment.

The objective was “Women’s ease of living through clean cooking”. It cannot be denied that PMUY scheme has empowered women economically and socially. With easier access to LPG, women are no longer burdened with the task of collecting firewood or other traditional fuels, which often required long and arduous journeys. This newfound convenience allows them to participate more actively in community life and take up other income-generating opportunities. But has it shifted them to use it as a cooking fuel? Not really. There are instances of not going for refills once the subsidy is used up.

Political impact

On whether this will influence voters, particularly women voters, Economist and author, Surjit Bhalla said “it will have little to no impact”.

“This is consistent with BJPs communication strategy and policy. Basically, to reinforce Brand BJP, in keeping with the narrative of Nari Shakti,” he said.

According to NR Bhanumurthy, Vice-Chancellor of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar School of Economics University, “moves like this sometimes have an impact and many a times they don’t. It depends on how much weightage the voter wants to give to the policy on that day and time. A fine example is what happened to old pension system in Rajasthan, it just did not work.”

But then the guarantees promised by some governments for example Telangana and Karnataka worked, he added. LPG if seen in the context of rural development-rural housing, electricity — is now way of life, he stressed.

Clearly promoting LPG has its advantages but now it has become a way of living.

While moves like these are more symbolic the focus should be more on bringing societal change to ensure it reaches the actual target beneficiary.