NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said 10 crore LPG connections including 4 crore free to poor women, were given in last four years, compared to 13 crore in six decades since independence, as his government stepped up efforts to shield women and children from kitchen smoke.
Interacting through video-conference with some of the women beneficiaries who received free cooking gas connection under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Modi recounted his own childhood when his mother struggled with smoke emitting from cooking on firewood or cow dung, to say his government will increase coverage of clean fuel to 100 per cent households in the near future.
"Till 2014, only 13 crore LPG connections were given. These were mostly to rich and affluent class. In the past four years, we have given 10 crore new LPG connections, mostly to poor," he said. "Ujjwala Yojana has strengthened the lives of the poor, marginalised, dalits, tribal communities. This initiative is playing a central role in social empowerment."
Launched in May 2016, the scheme aims to provide in next three years as many as 5 crore free cooking gas connections to women from extremely poor households, aimed at reducing the use of polluting fuels such as wood and dried cow dung that, according to the World Health Organization, cause 1.3 million premature deaths in India every year.
The target was raised to 8 crore this year by adding two additional years.
India aims to increase liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) usage to cover 80 per cent of its households by March 2019, against 72.8 percent in 2017. The Prime Minister did not give a date for achieving 100 per cent coverage.
Modi said LPG is the cleanest and easily available source of energy that is giving women a healthier lifestyle, saving them time, helping them financially and saving the environment.
As many as 45 per cent of the four crore free LPG connections given under Ujwalla are to dalits, he said.
Stating that his government stood for empowerment of the dalits, the Prime Minister said more than 1,200 petrol pumps have been given to dalit families since 2014 as compared to 445 retail outlets given to such families during 2010-2014 period of the previous UPA regime.
Similarly, 1,300 families got LPG distributorship as compared to 900 in the previous years.
The government, he said, is very serious in eliminating middlemen and so the beneficiary list has been made transparent.
Apart from those included under socio-economic caste census (SECC) to avail the scheme, the extended Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana would now cover all SC/ST households, most backward classes, beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin), Antyoday Anna Yojana, forest dwellers, people residing in river and river islands.
Modi said the government is targeting one lakh LPG Panchayats (peer learning platforms to support behaviour change in Ujjwala beneficiaries) this year to boost the LPG refill consumption and provide a window for the benefits of cleaner fuel to become visible.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the government provides a subsidy of Rs 1,600 to state-owned fuel retailers for every free LPG gas connection that they install in poor rural households without one.
This subsidy is intended to cover the security fee for the cylinder and the fitting charges. The beneficiary has to buy her own cooking stove and refills.
To reduce the burden, the scheme allows beneficiaries to pay for the stove and the first refill in monthly installments. However, the cost of all subsequent refills has to be borne by the beneficiary household.
He said 70 per cent of the villages are 100 per cent covered by LPG and 81 per cent village are covered up to 75 per cent.
In his interaction with women beneficiaries from different states, he asked them if they were getting LPG refills on time and if any middlemen were asking for money. He asked them about their experience of using LPG and how it saved them time, which they can utilise for supporting the family financially by starting schemes like tiffin service.
He asked women to give healthy and nutritious food to their kids and not just rely on junk food.
Modi said he will never forget one of Premchand's stories, Idgah. "The story is about young Hamid, who does not buy sweets or gifts during Id but buys a 'Chimta' so that his grandmother does not burn her hands while cooking. This story is extremely emotional."
"Ujjwala Yojana is leading to better health for India's Nari Shakti," he said.