The Narendra Modi government has said it would extend the benefits of its much-hyped Ujjwala scheme - which provides free cooking gas to BPL families - further, so it reaches all households. With months to go for the Lok Sabha polls, the move is expected to help the government add to its already impressive gas connection numbers built over the last three years.
The government says the move will help people like 25-year-old Manoj Kumar, a daily wager who lives with his family of four at a village in Barabanki, 70 km from Lucknow.
Manoj is not on the BPL list of his village, even though he earns around Rs 6,000 a month, barely enough to make ends meet.
"It will be a big help if I can get a connection. Currently my wife cooks on firewood. If a gas connection comes, food will get cooked quickly and I won't have to go to the jungle to look for firewood," he said.
The government says it has given out more than 5.86 crore gas connections since the Ujjwala Yojana was launched in 2016. It is now hoping to introduce another 2 crore households to gas cylinders, which will mean that every home in the country will have an LPG connection in the near future.
"Our philosophy of governance is Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas, and this is one way in which we will implement it," Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told news agency ANI.
Activists say while the numbers are certainly impressive, the real challenge is to ensure cylinders are used on a sustained basis.
In Barabanki's Dhaunsar village, 70 km from Lucknow, half the 100 households are Below Poverty Line and all of them have Ujjwala gas cylinders. But hardly anyone gets regular refills.
Forty-year-old Haseen Bano, a mother of six, and her labourer husband, got a Ujjwala gas cylinder in mid-2017. But Haseen finally gave up on refills about four months ago.
"Gas cylinders are going for Rs 900, or Rs 1000. So should I run my house with whatever money we make or should I run after refills," she said.
Gas agencies in and around the villages were unwilling to share figures, but employees at a Hindustan Petroleum gas agency said on condition of anonymity that of the 1,500 Ujjwala connections they have handed out since 2016, the rate of regular refills has become as low as 25 per cent,
Independent research by the prestigious Council on Energy, Environment and Water, published in November 2018, says the proportion of households dependent on biomass as a primary source of cooking dropped from 85 per cent in 2015 to 61 per cent in 2018.
In 2015, 88 per cent households cited high monthly expenditure as the main reason for not having or sustaining an LPG connection. This year, the number dropped by just 1 per cent, to 87 per cent, the think-tank found.
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