SEATED INSIDE her rickety but clean hut in Dalit-dominated Rautapur village of Uttar Pradesh’s mango-rich Sitapur district, Sunita Ravi, a homemaker in her late thirties, says she has been worrying less for the past three days. “We now have a gas connection,” she states, beaming. Before a fellow from the local office of Indian Oil Corporation came home with an LPG cylinder, a stove and a small green-coloured hose, installed the cooking system on a pedestal and lit it, her life had been completely different. She had woken up every day anxious about collecting firewood for cooking. Occasionally, her husband got her dried cow-dung cakes as fuel, but she still had to leave home early morning looking for dry twigs, branches and other pieces of wood. She couldn’t afford to stray too far into the villages of other castes, or, for that matter, out of sight from where people typically squat and talk in the countryside. Doing so often meant attracting the unwanted attention of men. The region has had many cases of molestation, and worse, of women in search of firewood or out answering the call of nature. Sunita’s husband, who has been silent all this while, interjects to say that she suffers from wheezing because of long exposure to smoke from cow-dung cakes and firewood. “On the first day itself, her wheezing has come down,” he says animatedly, and goes on to talk about the health benefits of using LPG for cooking instead of traditional ways.
Sunita is among the more than 6.2 million beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which, launched on 1 May, is being implemented using the money saved on LPG subsidies through the centre’s ‘Give It Up’ campaign. The latest numbers accessed by Open from the Government confirm that the scheme has accelerated the supply and distribution of LPG connections in the countryside, especially in Uttar Pradesh. “Starting from the month of May to August, the daily clearance of new applications of LPG connections through Ujjwala had touched 50,000 daily. In the month of September, the figure has touched 75,000 daily,” says KM Mahesh, director, LPG, at the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan says that at this rate, the Government would even consider raising the scheme’s targets. In its first year, the year ending March 2017, the Government plans to distribute 15 million new LPG connections to poor households across the country. The Ministry is doling out these through oil marketing companies such as Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, which offer equal monthly installments (EMIs) to a central pool of beneficiaries to buy and refill LPG gas cylinders and stoves. It has already cleared more than 11.5 million new applications by rural women as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious programme launched on 1 May this year in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, with a budgetary allocation of Rs 8,000 crore. The exercise is backed by an aggressive marketing campaign, as part of which Modi called upon people—especially the well- off—last year to give up their LPG subsidies.
The Prime Minister had first made that public appeal on 27 March 2015, inaugurating Urja Sangam, a global energy meet. The Centre later said that the response had been all the more tremendous as he had promised to use the proceeds to help liberate poor women from the scourge of smoke-filled stoves that typically use coal, cow-dung cakes and firewood.