a. The Cabinet Committee on Economic affairs chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approves the “Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana” which is a scheme that would provide free LPG connections to women from BPL households.
b. In this scheme, a sum of Rs. 8,000 crore has been fixed for providing connections to five crore LPG connections for such households.
c. The scheme provides Rs. 1,600/- per LPG connection to each household as a financial support.
d. The Scheme would be implemented over three years, namely, the FY 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
e. This is a unique initiative wherein the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas would implement a welfare scheme benefitting crores of women belonging to the poorest households.
f. The identification of eligible BPL families for the scheme will be made in consultation with the state governments and the union territories.
Background – The need for LPG
a. In India, only the middle class and rich families have an access to the LPG connections in the semi urban and urban areas. However, the rural households especially the poor families solely depend on fossil fuels for cooking purposes.
b. About 1.3 million death happen per year due to smoke from unclean cooking fuels. Most of these untimely deaths include stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Indoor pollution also significantly contributes to acute respiratory illnesses in children.
Benefits of the scheme
a. The scheme focuses on the benefit of clean cooking energy which is important from the perspective of pollution control.
b. The scheme promises to improve the quality of life for poor women whose health interests are usually neglected.
c. According to a rural energy access survey by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, 95 per cent of LPG-deprived households admit their inability to pay as a barrier to their adopting LPG connections. Thus, it is a well planned scheme that addresses the compulsive barrier which curbs the transition towards LPG use.
Areas of Focus
a. A survey from rural households in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal highlights the fact of inability to pay for LPG connections (since most of the households depends on biomass and firewood for cooking energy purposes). Also, high recurring cost is not only a problem of purchasing capacity but also a perception and cash-flow issue. CEEW analysis suggests that households that buy some or all of their biomass end up paying more than those who rely on LPG. Thus, LPG would be an economically attractive proposal for such households.
b. Awareness needs to be created regarding the actual cost of LPG and its benefits over the traditional choolha method that poses a health hazard for the family.
c. Introducing cylinders of a smaller capacity (2 to 5 kg) could serve as a solution for population that finds refilling the large cylinders difficult.
d. With respect to LPG coverage in rural areas, Direct Benefits Transfer of LPG (DBTL) subsidy programme could possibly create problems for financially weaker households e.g no bank accounts or long distance travelling for people to have access to banking services. While the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana has increased the number of rural households with bank accounts, innovative payment approaches are needed to fill the gap of access to banking services.
e. Awareness amongst the rural and poor urban households is also needed regarding the process to get a LPG connection.
This is the first most crucial step by the government towards tackling the developmental issue of enabling clean cooking energy throughout the rural areas. This will not only be beneficial as a contribution towards a clean environment but also address the health issues faced by rural population (due to use of unclean fuels). However, the government also needs to focus on issues of cash flow, awareness, availability and administration apart from subsidising connections and fuel costs.