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Modi's Ujjwala scheme "fails": 96% women find LPG unaffordable, revert to firewood

Ujjwala project being launched in Gujarat
By Paulomee Mistry*, Prof Hemant Kumar Shah**
The Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is apparently deceiving poor tribal women, as domestic cooking gas cylinders are not affordable to them. Worse, Below Poverty Line (BPL) families get converted to Above Poverty Line (APL) families on getting gas connection, and their access to kerosene is stopped, forcing them revert to firewood.
PMUY was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 1, 2016 in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Under this scheme, 5 crore LPG connections were to be provided to BPL families with the support of Rs 1,600 per connection in three years. Ensuring women’s empowerment, especially in rural India, the connections were to be issued in the name of women of the households. Rs 8,000 crore was allocated for the implementation of the scheme. Identification of the BPL families was to be done through the Socio-Economic Caste Census Data.
Disha, a Gujarat-based NGO, conducted a study on the implementation of Ujjwala, surveying of 1,080 BPL families of 15 blocks in four tribal districts (Aravalli, Sabarkantha, Dahod and Panchmahal) of Gujarat in November-December 2018. The survey found that out of 1,080 families that were surveyed, 616 families got LPG connection 2016, another 380 families got the connection in 2017, and 84 families in 2018.
The families which got cooking gas connections were using kerosene and wood as fuel earlier. A total of 247, or 22.87% of the households, said that they were using kerosene before they got gas connection, and 727, i.e. 67.3%, said they were using wood as fuel. The remaining 106 families said they used both kerosene and wood as fuel.
The objective of PMUY was to ensure that poor families who were using wood stopped using it, so that women’s health remains good, as LPG is more environmental friendly. Even though it is beneficial, the survey found that cooking gas was not affordable to the poor.
Thus, 305 (28.2%) households did not buy cylinder for the second time after adopting the scheme; 404 (37.4%) families took cylinder for the second time, but not thereafter, and 197 (18.2%) families took the cylinder for the third time, but stopped buying it after that. Only 16.2% households bought household gas cylinder more than thrice.
The use of cooking gas has led to a major change in these BPL families. The government has converted BPL families into APL. Out of 1,080 families, 953, i.e. 88%, have been turned into APL this way. The obvious consequence of this is that they have stopped getting benefits of other poverty alleviation schemes for BPL. The government is also claiming that poverty is declining in this way! Only 127 families said that there was no change in their BPL status.
Most families do know the benefits of the Ujjwala scheme. They believe that the use of domestic gas would save time, as they wouldn't have to go out for fire wood; they also conceded it is environment friendly, there is no smoke, cooking time declines, utensils remain cleaner etc. Only 29 families said that they did not see any benefit. Even though the poor families understand the benefit of using cooking gas, they are unable to continue using it because of it is not affordable and is too costly.
During the survey, 1,042 (96%) families said that after getting the gas connection it became unaffordable for them to buy cooking gas cylinder contuously due to the high cost of cooking gas cylinder. These poor families had been mostly using firewood earlier, which they get from the forest area for free. The families surveyed are BPL, and hence their income is quite low, so they feel, they cannot spend more money on cooking gas. Only if their incomes increase or domestic gas prices reduce would they be able to afford domestic gas.
Paulomee Mistry, Hemant Kumar Shah
As many as 1,033 (96%) families said that after getting cooking gas they have stopped receiving quota for kerosene from the Public Distribution System (PDS). The government assumes that if a family is given gas connection, it will always use gas. But actually this is not the case. Thus, a strange and pitiable situation has arisen from the non-availability of gas as well as kerosene to the poor families. These families have been forced to use firewood again.
Further, the odd thing is that, there is a market price for cooking gas, about Rs 700, which is to be first paid to the gas agency; only then subsidy amount of subsidy is credited to the beneficiary's bank account.
It was found in the survey that 308 families did not get subsidy at all. Those who got subsidy said they got it six to ten months later, insisting, there were irregularities in installments. Therefore, poor women said, they do not trust the scheme. Also, many women wondered as to why the government takes money from them, then returns it back as subsidy.
Domestic cooking gas companies include Hindustan Petroleum, Indane and Bharat Gas. However, 35 families did not know which company had given them the gas connection.
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*Director, Disha; **Principal, HK Arts College, Ahmedabad

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