The Centre may consider a higher subsidy for families refilling cooking gas cylinders under its welfare scheme Ujjwala, which offers free cooking gas connections to poor households.
Enhancing the subsidy is one of the options before the central government, which has received feedback to the effect that in many states the refill rate of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders is less than optimal, senior government officials said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity. A final decision will be taken only after a new government takes charge following the Lok Sabha elections that are under way. The model code of conduct is in place for the duration of the elections that end on May 19, preventing any announcement in the interim that may be interpreted as a sop to the electorate.
Ujjwala subscribers don’t receive any extra subsidy for refilling their gas canisters beyond the normal discount of around Rs 217 per refill per month.
“The subsidy amount also changes from time to time, depending on the market price of the cylinders,” said a senior official. The government has so far released 71.9 million Ujjwala connections across 714 districts since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the scheme in May 2016.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) was aimed at safeguarding the health of women and children by providing them a cleaner alternative in the form of LPG to firewood, coal and dung-cakes that households traditionally used as cooking fuels, according to the PMUY website.
A higher subsidy can make cooking gas even cheaper and affordable for the poorest of the poor. According to the government’s internal estimates, states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have not yet reached the optimum level of refilling gas canisters.
“The main issue we face in better implementation is that... in many cases the distributors look at the scheme from a pure commercial point of view and are reluctant to go the extra mile to hand over the cylinder at home or in some cases, allow a few days of credit to beneficiaries,” said a second official.
The government may also give a strong push to popularising the 5kg cylinders that were specially built for the Ujjwala scheme to give beneficiaries the option of a smaller cylinder at a lower price. “Under the Ujjwala scheme, the beneficiaries can either opt for the normal 14.2kg cylinder or the 5kg cylinder. The subsidy is [on a] pro rata basis,” said a spokesperson for the petroleum ministry, the nodal ministry for the Ujjwala scheme.
“People find it easy to access free firewood and thus in my area there is less than 10% refill rate,” said Deendayal Dash, an Ujjwala distributor in Odisha.
Even so, Dash said, there is a growing trend among the younger generation to opt for cooking gas. “We have noticed that elder women continue to use firewood but when her son gets married, the daughter-in-law demands cooking gas.”
The ministry also wants a massive campaign on these lines — replicating the awareness campaign on the need to build toilets — after the polls. “We want to build a campaign on the lines that if your household doesn’t have an Ujjwala connection, your son may not get a bride,” said the second senior official.
Former Union rural development secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra said the government must reinforce the Ujjwala subsidy to make the scheme more popular. “There is no point in giving the same amount of subsidy to all cooking gas users. The government must have enough resources to target the subsidy to only the vulnerable section. Ujjwala is a good scheme but needs more push and a higher subsidy can help people get accustomed to using cooking gas,” Mohapatra said.