Indian Government Considers Expansion of Groundbreaking LPG Program

NEW DELHI: The government is considering the option of raising the target for Ujjwala, the flagship social welfare scheme for providing free LPG connection to five crore poor households by 2019, and proposes to invest nearly Rs 30,000 crore on creating import and distribution infrastructure for widening the clean fuel coverage in the country.

The proposal is being tossed around at the top level of the government and will require the finance ministry’s approval since it involves budgetary support. A provision of Rs 2,000 crore was made in the 2016 Budget for providing the connection to 1.5 crore poor households in 2016-17. But the Cabinet in March, decided to earmark Rs 8,000 crore for the scheme to cover five crore such households.

The move to raise the target has been prompted by the superfast rollout of the scheme, personally being pushed by oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan, reaching 2.2 crore Ujjwala households in the very first year of its launch against the target of 1.5 crore families. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the programme on May 1 at Balia in UP.

The oil ministry is targeting three crore connections, including 1.5 crore-2 crore under Ujjwala scheme during the 2017-18 and another four crore in the following year. This would help take LPG coverage to 95.49% of the population.

On Friday, Pradhan summed up the scheme’s underlying motif saying, ” Mahilao ko mila samman, yahi hai Ujjwala ki pehchan (Ujjwala identifies with dignity for women)”. He credited “360 degree engagement” and “participatory mode (of implementation) involving beneficiaries, elected representatives, distinguished personalities and local administration” for the scheme’s success.

The minister’s statement is a pointer to the social dividend by way of improving health of women in rural households, who still depend on firewood, coal, dung cakes as cooking fuel and suffer due to smoke. According to a World Health Organisation report, smoke from such fuels inhaled by women is equivalent to burning 400 cigarettes in an hour and causes several respiratory and other diseases.

The scheme rids women and children of the drudgery of collecting firewood. The idea is that after getting a LPG connection, there would be no need for the women to collect firewood or dung and they can spend that time more productively.

Ujjwala has fuelled the fastest-ever expansion of LPG consumer base in the domestic sector, making India the second-largest consumer of the clean fuel in domestic category. Pradhan said LPG consumption is growing in double digits with half of the demand being met through imports. “We envisage an investment of the order between Rs 25,000 crore and Rs 30,000 crore in laying LPG pipelines, expanding bottling capacity and increasing import capacity… Also, 10,000 new LPG distributors are envisaged to be added. Of these, 4,600 have already been appointed, he said.

India is home to more than 24 crore households, of which about 10 crore still do not have access to LPG as cooking fuel and have to rely on firewood, coal, dung cakes as primary fuel for cooking.