NEW DELHI: Touted as a gamechanger, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana ensured that 5.8 crore households belonging to deprived sections were provided LPG connections so that their women folk don’t have to cook in smoky kitchens using firewood, coal or cow dung.
Two-and-a-half years after its launch, the Centre’s flagship programme appears to be flagging as most beneficiaries after getting gas connections, have not been able to continue using LPG as a medium for cooking, perhaps because of the steep cost of a refill.
This is clear from the data compiled by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. A total of 4.70 crore had been given LPG connections up to July this year but only 2.70 crore, or 58% of the beneficiaries, went in for a second refill of their cylinders. The number dropped further when it came to the third refill: only 2.07 crore or 44% went for the refill.
Explaining the numbers, K M Mahesh, a senior official with the ministry, said the consumption pattern defines the usage as many deprived people consume food only once a day.
But Devinder Sharma, a policy expert, said the declining percentage of LPG usage among Ujjwala beneficiaries reflected the harsh reality in the country.
“About 58% of the farmers sleep with an empty stomach. The Economic Survey of 2016 says that the average income of the farming family is just Rs 20,000 a year in 17 states, about half the country. If this is the situation, then how can they refill a cylinder,” he said.
The ministry data also disclosed huge variation in consumption pattern of LPG among various states. Less than 50 per cent of the beneficiaries in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland and Odisha took a second refill. But in richer states such as Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat, over 80% of the beneficiaries availed of a second refill. Officials claimed that people use LPG as per their socio-economic condition.
“There are different consumption patterns in different parts of the country. Many people in tribal belts use it once a day. Some use it twice a day. So, people are refilling it differently as per their requirement,” Mahesh said.
LPG distributors said logistical issues and the high cost of a full cylinder could also be behind the declining usage of cooking gas.
“Many beneficiaries are unable to pay a large amount of a big cylinder up front. The beneficiaries can now take two small cylinders of five kg instead of the large LPG cylinder,” said Pawan Soni, general secretary of the Federation of LPG Distributors of India.
He said smaller cylinders were easier to transport, so 5 kg ones were being distributed in the hills and far-flung areas.