Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Ministry of Petroleum &Natural Gas, wants to make it clear that the PMUY is a well-thought-out welfare strategy. The government wants to provide clean fuel to the poor, he tells BusinessLine , just a few days before the scheme was launched in his home state Odisha. Excerpts:
Is it correct to interpret the Ujjwala scheme as a part of DBTL (direct benefit transfer of LPG)?
No, this is altogether different. While DBTL was happening we started a debate on whether or not the affluent should get subsidy. This led to a self-motivated programme called GiveItUp, where a sizeable number of affluent people stopped taking subsidy. But we wanted the needy to get the benefit. Ujjwala is that initiative.
Today, a large number of poor people, either knowingly or unknowingly are spending more on other cooking fuel than they would have spent on LPG. We did a market assessment of why they were doing so and found that the biggest bottleneck in using LPG was the upfront connection cost. Average LPG consumption would be 5-6 cylinders which means the annual cost will be ₹3,000. This would be less than ₹10 a day, while people spend ₹8- 10 on other means of cooking fuel. The time spent in going to the jungle and gathering wood has a cost as well. Thirdly, the health cost due to the smoke and pollution. So we thought if we ease the upfront cost, then the poor have access to clean fuel. Government wants to touch the last mile -- the poorest of poor -- and Ujjwala is for the poorest of poor women.
The funding for Ujjwala is a mix of savings from GiveItUp and budgetary provision. How did you create this mechanism?
I would like to take you back to March 27, 2015, when the Prime Minister said that the money saved from GiveItUp won’t be kept in the government treasury. It will be used to provide welfare for the poor. This is our welfare strategy. The system was not worked out suddenly. It is a well- thought-out strategy.
Many of the southern states have not come on board for Ujjwala. Why is that?
In southern states such as Kerala, the LPG penetration is already 100 per cent, so why will they join? Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are much above the national average. But this doesn’t mean the scheme will not be launched there. The roll out is all India, but we have prioritised the areas. We have picked out 100 districts in non-priority states as well. Priority states are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. The tribal belt in Rajasthan is in the priority district list. First preference is states where LPG penetration is lower than the national average. For states where it is high, we have picked districts which are lower than the state average.
You have a young team to monitor and implement the programme. What went behind building this team?
When we implemented DBT, we appointed District Nodal Officers for all the districts. We repeated the same experience here. The District Nodal Officers are leading the movement, monitoring the agencies, helping in form enrolment.