Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana needs to be extended

Arindam Gupta | Updated on January 10, 2021

Use of unclean cooking fuels continues to be one of the primary reasons for infant deaths in India

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) looked to address the health hazards of mother and child caused by mass use of charcoal, wood and animal dung for cooking. A recent report (2020) of the US-funded Health Effects Institute reveals that air pollution could be largely responsible for 120,000 infant deaths in their first month of life in India; and two-thirds of this could be linked to use of solid fuels.

According to the WHO, India witnessed about five lakh deaths per year due to unclean cooking fuels before the introduction of the scheme.

According to experts, having an open fire in the kitchen is equivalent to burning 400 cigarettes an hour. Air pollution was in the news recently when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned the sale and use of crackers in the National Capital Region, and issued notices to 18 States and Union Territories where the air quality is “not satisfactory”. A ban on crackers was imposed during November 9-30 .

When the scheme was launched on May 1, 2016, at Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, none would have anticipated that it would take only a little over 40 months for allotting the ‘8-croreth’ connection on September 7, 2019. The poor women could avail themselves of LPG connection by providing ration card, bank account details and Aadhaar number. A single LPG connection costs about ₹3,200, of which, the government provided ₹1,600 as support, primarily to enable the beneficiaries pay the security deposit and initial fitting charges; the balance recoverable upfront or in instalments. The beneficiaries could also avail zero-interest EMI facilities for buying the stove and cost of the first refill.

The scheme started with a target of five crore LPG connections to women below poverty line (BPL) over a period of three years for which a total budgetary allocation of ₹8,000 crore was made. The beneficiary list was prepared using 14 parameters for exclusion of the relatively well-off such as any member of the family having a government job or any family owning irrigated land, etc.

To serve an enhanced target of eight crore households, an additional ₹4,800 crore was allocated in the Union Budget of 2018. The scheme was extended later, on December 17, 2018, to include those who would declare themselves being poor, not falling under any of the excluded criteria. It thus made a potential target of including an additional one crore households under the scheme.

On December 11, 2019, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India submitted a performance audit report on the scheme. It observed a total of 7.2 crore connections were issued by March 2020 under the scheme, and 90 per cent of the target having been achieved. It thus did not consider the enhanced target of nine crore households.

Later, the government too claimed, on September 7, 2019, to having fulfilled its target seven months ahead based on a database of eight crore enlisted beneficiaries. The annual allocation was cut by 58 per cent to ₹1,118 crore in Budget 2020 from ₹2,724 crore in 2019-20, just enough to fund arrears to be reimbursed.

As per the CAG report, the LPG coverage increased from 62 per cent in May 2016 to 94 per cent in March 2019. However, the average annual refill consumption for PMUY beneficiaries remained low, compared to the non-PMUY consumers. Poor financial condition is seen as the primary reason for this. Also, diversion of domestic cylinders for commercial use was noted in the report.

During the time of lockdown, the government used the scheme to ease the livelihood pressure on poor households, combining it with Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. The government had declared it would subsidise three 14.2-kg LPG cylinders in full for the beneficiaries from April to June. On July 8, 2020, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar extended the scheme till September 30 for those who could order the three cylinders due to the pandemic.

The scheme had been virtually withdrawn in September 2019 more than one year ago, although no formal declaration was made. Only three States — Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh — and five Union Territories were declared kerosene-free at that time.

The Parliamentary committee on petroleum was reportedly upset with the closure of the scheme. In its report tabled in Parliament, just before the outbreak of pandemic in the country in March, the committee recommended extension of the scheme to the urban and semi-urban slum areas to further LPG coverage to the masses. In view of the report on pollution-led infant deaths, the government should give a second thought on the scheme after normalcy is restored.

The writer is Professor of Commerce, Vidyasagar University, Midnapore

Published on January 10, 2021

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