18 August 2017

The 2015 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) meet saw 193 member States of the United Nations adopting the SDG agenda. Goal 7 of the SDG is about ‘Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030. The emphasis on access to modern energy for sustainable development coupled with the growing evidence on the adverse health and environment impact of traditional biomass fuels  have prompted global initiatives to revive efforts on reaching modern energy sources to poor households in developing countries. As a step towards meeting the SDG agenda, the Indian Government launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana (PMUY) (Scheme for Release of Free Connections to women in Below Poverty Line (BPL) households) in May 2016, to supply clean cooking fuel to poor rural households in India. The scheme aims to empower women, reduce serious health hazards and number of deaths due to unclean cooking fuel and prevent young children from significant number of acute respiratory illness caused due to indoor air pollution.

Poor, especially poor in rural areas have limited access to clean cooking fuel - Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) - in India. According to Census of India, 2011, the proportion of rural households using LPG for cooking is only about 11 percent, while the proportion of urban households using LPG is 65 percent. The Government of India has, since the First Five Year Plans, introduced several schemes to reach LPG to the masses. The schemes have largely focused on regulating cylinder prices and the number of cylinders per household with the intention of capping the total subsidy expenditure on LPG.

Price based fuel subsidies in the country have been criticized for being inequitable and inefficient, especially when it comes to reaching LPG to the rural poor. 70 percent of the LPG subsidy benefits are found to accrue to the top two income quintiles. Further, several studies across the globe have cited the initial start up cost as a major hurdle for the poor to shift to LPG. These challenges are more for the rural households compared to urban as they in addition to the income challenge face several supply side constraints which makes the connection and refill cost for a rural household substantially higher than that for an urban household.

The PMUY aims to spread the reach of LPG in rural areas, by providing deposit free connections in the name of women beneficiaries of (Below Poverty Line) BPL households. PMUY aims to reduce substantially the burden of initial start up costs incurred in new LPG connections. The stove and refill costs are proposed to be covered through equitable monthly installments facility. The total financial support extended through the scheme to a BPL household amount to Rs.1600/- for 14. 2 Kg cylinder of which Rs.1450/- covers the security deposit. Also the scheme has specific target guidelines and prioritiesd SC/ST households and weaker sections of society. In addition, priority is given to states have lower LPG connections or coverage as on Jan 2016.

Complementing this scheme is the GiveitUp Campaign which was launched by the Prime Minister of India in the ‘Urja Sangam’ organized in March 2015. The GiveitUP campaign by the Government of India is aimed “to encourage ‘well off’ consumers to voluntarily surrender LPG subsidy”. The campaign promises one security deposit free connection to a BPL family for every voluntary surrender of LPG subsidy. An estimated 10.4 million LPG consumers have given up their LPG subsidy till April 2016. This is almost 6.2% of the total customer base. About 5.5 million ‘GiveBack’ BPL connections are planned to be given as part of this campaign.

The LPG cylinder supply network is limited in rural areas which is also one of the reasons for low uptake of clean cooking fuel in rural areas. In order to address the supply side constraint ‘Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak’ Scheme was launched in 2012-2013 with the capacity to serve 1200 customers with an average refill of 600 refills per month. The objective of the scheme is to establish a strong distribution network in remote rural areas in which it targets to provide dealership in the joint name of husband and wife. However, there is setback in continuing the scheme when the PMUY scheme was launched.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is responsible for implementation of this scheme. Since its countrywide launch in May 2016, till July 2016, the scheme is operational in 7 States, namely, UttarPradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. The 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development forms the basis for identification of the beneficiaries of the PMUY.

Though BPL certificate authorized by Panchayat President/Municipal Chairman, BPL ration card and Photo ID card issued by Government of India are documents to be submitted for getting the connection, it is learnt from interaction with LPG dealers that the District/Local Government has no role in the implementation or monitoring of the scheme. They are not involved in identification of beneficiaries too. Sales Officer of the Oil Marketing Companies is the person who has to ratify the beneficiary list identified by the dealers. The dealers in turn operate through field managers and agents. Given the heavy dependence on the capacity of the middle level dealers/agencies to identify the target groups, the selection process runs the risk of introducing an element of subjectivity. Absence of clear monitoring mechanism for implementation of PMUY, further makes the selection process less robust and reliable.

An estimated 2.17 crore BPL families in 694 districts are reported to have received new LPG connections under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) till May 2017. A survey conducted by MicroSave (a financial inclusion consulting firm) in 12 districts of eastern, central and western Uttar Pradesh, revealed large scale adoption of  LPG after receiving the connection. In contrast, field investigation in two districts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu reveal very low proportion of connections under Ujwala scheme. A possible reason could be that Kerala and Tamil Nadu have relatively higher proportion of existing LPG users compared to the rest of the states in the country. Government of Tamil Nadu has implemented a ‘Free-LPG Stove’ schemes in the year 2016, which has been a catalytic trigger in large scale adoption of LPG for cooking in the state.  Further, it was also observed that the Ujwala connections in the two districts in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, had very low refill rates (60-65 days gap) indicating fuel stacking and not fuel switching. However, the MicroSave study in Uttar Pradesh does not provide details on the number of refills or the number of years of continuous usage to indicate sustained use of LPG for cooking among the BPL households studied.  A more rigorous and extensive study across all the states that have implemented the Ujwala yojana is needed to reveal the impact of the scheme and the effectiveness of its implementation in the country.

Nevertheless, the scheme is to be lauded for its targeted approach to reach women among the poorest of the poor households. The PMUY has a target of 5 crore LPG connections in the name of women in BPL households by 2018-19. About Rs.8000 crore has been allotted for implementation of the scheme for a period of 3 years. The  clear cut targets and the financial outlay backing the scheme makes it more than just a wishful thinking on the part of the Government’s commitment to “Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030.

Manjula.M  and Rengalakshmi

M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation