KOLKATA: Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday launched the second phase of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (a scheme that provides free LPG connections to underprivileged families), saying it will provide the biggest relief to families of migrant workers, the state of West Bengal has reported a sharp drop of nearly 50% in the number of families availing the scheme.
Between April and June 2020, 1.56 crore gas cylinders were delivered to households under the scheme. In contrast, between January and March this year, only 75 cylinders were delivered, due to a fall in demand.
“This is because of a massive hike in the price of cooking gas. A cylinder costs Rs 861 at present in the state. The pandemic has resulted in a large-scale job crisis across the state and forking out the price of a gas cylinder is not possible for poor subscribers,” said an official.
Though the scheme offers free LPG connection (i.e. the pressure regulator and the first cylinder worth Rs 1,650) to poor households, they will have to pay to avail a refill. During last year’s lockdown, the Centre had announced free cylinders for three months to Ujjwala subscribers. This led to a surge in demand for cylinders. But after three months, the number of procurements started dropping.
“I have no money for a refill. I am now following the old practice. We live in Junglemahal. I go to nearby forests and procure wood to cook,’’ Subhas Mahato, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme, said. “Since June, I haven’t procured a single cylinder. Now, my wife struggles every day to beat the smoke while cooking with the wood that my son and I fetch from nearby forests,” another beneficiary said.