The Poor Got LPG Cylinders Under Modi's Scheme But They Can't Afford Gas Refills

The government calls the scheme a success because of the rise in LPG connections, but the lack of gas refills by poor households suggests it is not.

On paper, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is a success. The scheme, under which 50 million LPG connections were to be given to women belonging to families that fall below the poverty line (BPL), managed to cover over two crore households within 11 months of its launch in Ballia in Uttar Pradesh in May 2016. But as Roshan Kishore explains in Mint, there are reasons to believe the scheme is not delivering on its promise of freeing poor households from more polluting and harmful methods of energy use.

Government officials last month said that LPG connections to BPL families had exceeded its target of 40,440 for 2016-17, and in fact, 63,294 connections were distributed in Amethi in UP. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, 20 million out of the 32.2 million new LPG connections in 2016-17 were part of the PMUY scheme.

PMUY was aimed to replace unclean cooking fuels with the clean and more efficient LPG, and was even believed to have contributed to the BJP’s recent sweep in the recent UP assembly polls.

“Even though the SP government had also launched many welfare schemes like the Samajwadi Pension Yojana, the Ujjwala Yojana resonated well with people as the central government was quick in distributing cylinders to the beneficiaries and the people had the product in front of them in no time,” an SP leader from Lucknow told Livemint on the condition of anonymity.

This surpassing of set targets has incidentally – and surprisingly –  not resulted in an increase in the overall LPG consumption since many families who had received the gas connection under the PMUY scheme had not returned to refill their cylinders, according to anecodotal evidence in a recent Scroll report.

Data shows that year-on-year increase in the consumption of LPG rose from 9% to 9.8% from 2015-16 to 2016-17, while the increase in LPG customers in the same time period rose from 10.2% to 16.2%.

The reason for customers not returning for a refill after receiving the connection and cylinder free of cost can probably be attributed to the high cost of even a subsidised cylinder – Rs 450. Kerosene (Rs 20 per litre) or firewood, in that case, are much cheaper options.

PMUY beneficiaries also are not required to pay security deposit or any other overhead costs while taking LPG connections, and can even opt to pay in installments for gas stove and first refill at the time of getting connection. These concessions, however, do not apply for the second refill.

Last month, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, while inaugurating the PMUY for BPL families in Assam, said that the government’s target was to give five crore families across the country LPG connections. The states which have benefited the most from this scheme, according to the government, are Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

The government may have met or even exceeded its target for the distribution of LPG connections, but it needs to look into whether the scheme has actually been successful in encouraging beneficiary households to switch to using clean cooking fuel.