Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, is satisfied with the success of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Scheme (PMUY). With the Cabinet expanding the base of the scheme, the Minister and his team has a task for the next 25 months. “The challenge has been changing the behavioural pattern rather than implementing the scheme itself,” says Pradhan. Excerpts:

What has Ujjwala experience been so far?

The scheme has stabilised. This is validated by the fact that 80 per cent of the consumers are coming for refill. The average refill is 4.07 cylinders annually, a very positive sign.

Besides, this group comprises first-time consumers, who use alternative fuels. They have understood the key aspects of this scheme – health, environment, economic benefit and empowerment. Despite having the access to alternative fuel, people from low-income groups are coming for refills. Those who say no refilling is happening are wrong statistically.

Expansion of the base will pose fresh challenges, it may pose issues of false certification…

I do not think there will be an issue. These are identified groups. Issues such as false certification could happen, for that we did de-duplication earlier. We will prevent hiccups as we go on. These are Constitutionally-protected groups and we are going with settled nomenclature.

Affordability still remains a challenge.…

It is a challenge, but if it is an issue, the four refills per annum would not have occurred.

There is a difference between the consumption pattern of an affluent urban and poor rural consumer. Initially it looks like ₹700 going out of pocket, but once loan (taken for the connection) is repaid, then the price comes down to the subsidised rates. We have given interest-free loan.

We wanted to ensure that poor gets access to stove and LPG. How else could have we done it? Besides, it is a behavioural issue. It is matter of education. A woman who does conventional cooking – four to eight years she spends. Now she spends maybe two hours, saving her time. In some houses, one woman would go to gather wood, and another would cook.

But, those who have access to alternate fuel are using both modes…

As I said, it is a behavioural issue. This is why we are holding LPG panchayats, which will communicate two or three issues, including safety, benefit and empowerment. How is a woman achieving it?

Will you be looking at reworking the EMI scheme?

I do not see any need to further tweak it. Besides, there is budgetary support.

Someone is giving interest-free EMI. On the one hand companies are taking a hit, but their base is also expanding.

Companies are not losing, consumer is not losing, and the government is also not losing.

Business is not run on charity. There will be two or three years of capital incentive, but by 2020, almost 90-95 per cent of the population will use LPG. Demand will increase.

With growing demand, do we see private participation coming in?

Because of EMI and the subsidy involved, we are not expanding it to private participation.

Slowly the system will open up. Once the base is expanded, who knows, it may also happen.