Editor's note: Over two years have passed since the inauguration of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana in the district of Ballia in Uttar Pradesh. The scheme, which aims to provide LPG connections to economically weaker sections, has often been cited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to showcase the Centre's work towards poverty alleviation. In this series of reports, Firstpost seeks to assess the impact of the scheme on the ground in western Uttar Pradesh.
Lakshmi never imagined she'd have a bank account. At 36, an account has finally been opened in her name. As she glanced at her name written on the passbook, she couldn't contain a smile. Though there isn't much in her bank account, owing to her household expenses, whatever sum she owns guarantees her a greater degree of economic security that those rolled notes around the corners of her house offered.
Lakshmi is planning to put her savings in her new account opened under the Jan Dhan Yojana. She is yet to deposit the saved money in her account. But, nowadays, whenever she buys an LPG cylinder, the subsidy amount is deposited directly into her bank account.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana has not just emancipated Lakshmi from the suffocating smoke coming out of her clay stove, but also helped her have her own bank account. Also, thanks to the scheme, some money is regularly deposited in Lakshmi's account.
To get an LPG gas connection under Ujjwala scheme, it is compulsory to have a bank account in the name of a female member of a family. Many Jan Dhan accounts were opened for women. Government statistics from January 2018 show that of 30.97 crore accounts opened under Jan Dhan scheme, 16.37 crore (roughly 50 percent) were opened in the name of women. The government's initiative towards female empowerment seems to have had an impact at the ground level.
The Khatauli assembly area of Muzaffarnagar district in Western Uttar Pradesh, has many such stories. To get a better picture of how such schemes are working on ground, how these schemes have benefitted and impacted the lives of women, Firstpost visited a tiny hamlet of Khatauli. The village's school bears the name of the hamlet"Islamabad"which immediately grabs the attention. Vishnu Dutt, a senior citizen and resident of Islamabad, explained that their forebears chose the name well before the Partition. Dutt, who hails from the Brahmin community, said it never bothered people like him but it arouses the intrigue of outsiders.
He also revealed that there was a village named Aurangzeb Nagar not too far from Islamabad. The villagers renamed it Radhna sometime ago. There are also villages such as Akbargarh and Mujahidpur. Dutt explained that these villages date back to the Mughal era, hence the names. Here, villagers might have availed the benefits of the Ujjwala and Jan Dhan schemes but Dutt feels one should wait before measuring the success of any scheme. He added that LPG connections aren't available to every poor family.
Udit Kumar is doing a survey on LPG gas connection being distributed under Ujjwala scheme. A local LPG distributer hired Kumar, who runs camps across villages to educate people and tells villagers about the documents required. "The biggest issue here is that of documentation. Several women don't have an Aadhaar card. If they have Aadhaar then there is no bank account. Some of them don't have ration cards. All these three documents are a prerequisite to getting the benefit of this scheme", Kumar explained.
The official website of Ujjwala scheme says that BPL ration card, Aadhaar card or Voter I card are the required documents to enlist under this scheme. According to the website, if one doesn't have Aadhaar, people can alternatively use Voter I card to get the benefits. But on the ground, it is almost impossible to get an LPG connection through Ujjwala without Aadhaar card.
"Some people already have gas connection. Now, they want benefits under this scheme as well. That's why the Aadhaar has been made mandatory for enrollment under the Ujjwala scheme. The Aadhaar is also necessary to get LPG subsidy. So, BPL ration card and bank account are must along with Aadhaar card," he said.
It is evident that Ujjwala scheme is reaching ground level. People are buying LPG stoves. To put the impact of this scheme in perspective, one must recall the 90s: A time when gas stoves and LPG connections were making inroads in the medium-level cites and small towns. People didn't start using LPG stoves at once. Use of clay stoves with wood and coal as fuel continued.
Then, clay stoves made way for LPG stoves. In most households, women used clay stoves to cook food, while LPG stoves were used to make breakfast and snacks. This was done to maximise the longevity of the LPG cylinder. Aside from dreading added expenditure, people were also wary of standing in long queues to get cylinders refilled. It wasn't easy to get an LPG connection and cylinder refills.
Later, the process eased. Cylinder refills were also made easy to come by and oil marketing companies started doorstep delivery. This easing of the process led to expansion of LPG gas connection base. Gradually, the use of clay stoves and kerosene stoves also became extinct in small towns and cities.
"People still think that they should use the LPG stove minimally if they want to prolong their usage. That's why women are still cooking on wooden stoves. As a result, sometimes a single LPG cylinder lasts up to a year. In rural patches of Western Uttar Pradesh, poor families are still to get used to cooking on LPG stoves," said Udit Kumar.
But this saving leads to another problem. If they don't get their cylinders refilled every three months, the distributors put such connections in the 'inactive list' of customers who then face difficulties in getting their connection reactivated. It takes a lot of documents and a visit to the distributors' office to get such connections activated. Rural customers are often are unable to get their LPG connections reactivated after they are put in inactive list by LPG distributors. Many connections are rendered inactive due to this.
A lot of rural customers have LPG connections to their name which are inactive. Which means they took the connection, but didn't use LPG regularly. There were 3.55 crore such inactive LPG connections across country. The number of inactive LPG connections touched 3.82 crore in January 2018. The total number of gas connections distributed under Ujjwala scheme is almost at par with these inactive LPG connections.
Today, 15 percent of LPG connections are inactive. A large number of inactive LPG connections are disappointing and doesn't bode well for success of any of the government's flagship scheme. Though there hasn't been any paucity in distributing LPG connections to poor families. According to data, 3.7 crore poor women have been given LPG connections under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna.
Several schemes have been launched to improve the LPG sector. The government started transferring gas subsidy directly to peoples' accounts through 'Pahal' scheme. The Modi government also launched, 'Give it up' campaign to nudge well to do families to give up gas subsidy. These programmes have led to plugging the leaks in LPG delivery system. Also, falling international crude prices in past couple of years helped government to deliver LPG connections to more and more families.
After the launch of the Ujjwala scheme, India surpassed Japan when it comes to LPG imports. Now, only China is ahead of India in terms of LPG imports. India imported 2.4 million tonnes of gas in December 2017, while China imported 2.3 million tonnes of LPG during same period. The average consumption of LPG in China is around 2.7 million tonnes per month, while Indians guzzle around 1.7 million tonnes of LPG per month. This data amply shows that people are more and more using LPG as fuel.
The Ujjwala scheme aims to provide a better life to major portion of country's populace. Still, to see a major positive shift at ground level due to this scheme, one will have to wait for some more time.