NEW DELHI: The free LPG connection scheme is one structural reform of the Modi government that has been internationally acclaimed for ridding indoor household pollution and improving women’s health.
And now, the government plans to give one crore more free LPG connections to the needy over the next two years and make it easier to access cooking gas to achieve near 100 per cent penetration of the clean fuel in the country.
Oil Secretary Tarun Kapoor said plans are in the works to provide LPG connection with bare-minimum identity documents and without insisting on residence proof of the place of availing the cooking gas.
Also, consumers would soon get a choice of getting a refill cylinder from three dealers in his or her neighbourhood instead of being tied to just one distributor, who may not be able to provide LPG on demand due to availability or other reasons.
In an interview with PTI, Kapoor said a record-breaking 8 crore free LPG connections were provided to poor women households in just four years alongside the aggressive rollout of cooking gas, taking the number of LPG users in the country to about 29 crore.
The Union Budget earlier this month announced a plan to give out one crore more free cooking gas connections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala (PMUY) scheme.
“Our plan is to complete these additional one crore connections in two years,” he said.
While no separate allocation for this has been made in the Budget for 2021-22, the general fuel subsidy allocation should be enough to cover the expense of about Rs 1,600 per connection, he said.
“We have done a preliminary estimate of the people who are now left out. The number comes to 1 crore,” he said. “After the successful Ujjwala scheme, households without LPG are very less in India. We have around 29 crore households with LPG connections. With the one crore connections, we will be close to 100 per cent LPG penetration.”
He, however, hastened to add that one crore unserved population was a dynamic number and there may be more families that may need LPG connections as they move to cities or other places for employment and other reasons.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature Ujjwala scheme for providing a free cooking gas connection to the poor had been lauded by the WHO in 2018 and by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in the following year as one that reduced indoor household pollution by helping families switch to cleaner energy sources and improving the environment and health of women.
The carbon footprint of LPG is 50 per cent lower than coal. LPG helps reduce carbon dioxide and black carbon emissions, which are the second-largest contributors to global warming.
Before Ujjwala, India was the second-largest contributor to global mortality due to household and ambient air pollution.
“We want to connect everyone in the country to the LPG network,” Kapoor said. “Besides Ujjwala, we are also easing out the procedure for getting LPG connections.”
While theoretically, the current rule is that everyone is eligible to get a cooking gas connection, practically it is difficult to get one due to requirements such as proof of residence of the place, where the connection is being sought.
“We have asked our oil companies that those kinds of complaints should be eliminated. A person who is even shifting from one city to another, even temporarily, should also be able to get an LPG connection without hassles. We want to move to a stage where with very basic documents, just some proof of identity, one can get an LPG connection,” he said.
As a step towards that, a unified software for all the three fuel marketing companies – Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum – is being prepared.
“We are getting a common information technology-based system in place. Right now, the three companies have their separate IT-based systems. We also want to popularise the mobile applications that our companies have so that no one has to keep a physical booklet,” he said.
Through this software, inter-company migration will become very easy, he said, adding in cities a person would have a choice of seeking an LPG refill from three distributors of the same company.
The Ujjwala Yojana was launched in May 2016 with a target to give free LPG connections to 5 crore mostly rural women members of below the poverty line (BPL) households. The list was later expanded to include all SC/ST households and forest dwellers, among others.
In 2018, the scheme was extended to all poor households and the target raised to 8 crore connections.
Under the scheme, the government provides a subsidy of Rs 1,600 to state-owned fuel retailers for every free LPG gas connection that they give to poor households. This subsidy is intended to cover the security fee for the cylinder and the fitting charges.
The beneficiary has to buy her own cooking stove. To reduce the burden, the scheme allows beneficiaries to pay for the stove and the first refill in monthly instalments. However, the cost of all subsequent refills has to be borne by the beneficiary household.