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GS II: SOCIAL - SCHEME
1. Budget 2016 launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). What is the purpose of this scheme? How is it different from its predecessors? What measures need to be taken to ensure that the scheme achieves its objectives?
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY):
· The Budget 2016 launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY).
· This Rs.8,000-crore scheme aims to provide subsidised liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to about 60 per cent of below poverty line (BPL) households — roughly as many households as there are in Germany — by 2019.
Different from its predecessors:
· The idea itself is not new as subsidised connections to BPL households have been provided under various schemes even earlier.
· However, the scale of this programme is what sets it apart. Until 2013, 75 lakh predominantly rural, subsidised BPL connections were disbursed under various schemes.
· Fifty-five lakh subsidised BPL connections are claimed to have been provided in the last year under the “Give Back” scheme linked to the “Give It Up” campaign.
· In comparison, the PMUY aims to provide subsidised connections to five crore households in three years.
Household Air Pollution (HAP)
· About 75 crore Indians, especially women and girls, are exposed to severe household air pollution (HAP) from the use of solid fuels such as biomass, dung cakes and coal for cooking.
· A report from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare places HAP as the second leading risk factor contributing to India’s disease burden.
· In comparison, poor sanitation, which has received much-needed attention of late, ranks 15th.
· According to the World Health Organization, solid fuel use is responsible for about 13 per cent of all mortality and morbidity in India (measured as Disability-Adjusted Life Years), and causes about 40 per cent of all pulmonary disorders, nearly 30 per cent of cataract incidences, and over 20 per cent each of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection.
Issues that need to be addressed
The PMUY is a very welcome initiative. However, the real test of the PMUY and its successor programmes will be in how they translate the provision of connections to sustained use of LPG or other clean fuels such as electricity or biogas. To pass this test, a few more issues need to be addressed.
1. First, cooking fuel should be available at an affordable cost to back up the initial provision of subsidised connections. Each BPL household would have to spend up to Rs.5,000 each year on LPG even at current subsidised prices — in addition to a one-time cost of Rs.1,800 for the connection — which may be unaffordable to many. The PMUY has proposed payment in instalments for stoves and cylinders to address this challenge, which is welcome. In addition, it may consider increasing LPG subsidies for the first few cylinders bought in a year by BPL households. With the success of the “Give It Up” campaign and the proposal to proactively exclude all those earning above Rs.10 lakh per annum from LPG subsidies, the burden on the exchequer for the increased subsidies to BPL households may be minimal, particularly in comparison to the huge health and economic benefits that come with it.
2. Second, the distribution system needs to be strengthened to be able to meet the expected increase in demand, particularly in rural areas, as non-availability of fuel could push people back towards using solid fuels. Ensuring reliable, sustained, last-mile supply would require multiple steps. It requires a large extension of distribution networks, especially in rural areas, since each rural distribution agency typically caters to fewer customers than urban agencies.
3. Reports that many Jan-Dhan accounts have zero balance raise concerns about whether subsidy transfer to such accounts will work effectively; so, implementation of direct benefit transfer schemes must be made more robust.
4. Effective monitoring and grievance redressal systems are equally important to ensure that problems in the scheme are highlighted and addressed early.
5. The scheme should be accompanied by a focussed public relations campaign, similar to the national tuberculosis or Swachh Bharat campaigns, to build awareness and create a “demand pull”, not only for clean cooking but also for good service.
6. Ensuring reliable supply is also likely to require strengthening the refining, bottling and pipeline infrastructure.
7. Finally, while the PMUY targets only BPL households, there is a need to widen the net for two reasons: one, because of known inclusion and exclusion errors in BPL lists, and two, because BPL may be a narrow definition of deprivation and many non-BPL households may also not be able to afford LPG connections. The wider net could just be all rural households or all households except those meeting well-defined exclusion criteria such as ownership of certain categories of assets.
The PMUY is a bold and much-needed initiative, but it should be recognised that this is just a first step. It will result in truly smokeless kitchens only if the government follows up with measures that go beyond connections to actual usage of LPG. This may require concerted efforts cutting across Ministries beyond petroleum and natural gas and including those of health, rural development and women and child welfare.