It is 11:30 am and Laxmi Tumbde is busy preparing lunch for her family of three. They live in Kashimira village, some 50 km from Mumbai. She cooks on a modern gas stove using an LPG cylinder she received in August under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. It's a scheme, she says, that has changed her life in many ways.
"I can now cook in an hour something that used to take two. Also, with the chullah, there would be smoke everywhere. I used to cough a lot, sometimes even come down with a fever. But now, with the gas connection, my health has improved and I don't even have to visit a doctor," says Laxmi Tumbde, a resident of the village.
She is not alone. Navsu Kondal, a 40-year-old woman, is another beneficiary of the scheme. She has five members in her family and has already refilled her cylinder twice since August, although she has to pay Rs 700-800 on each occasion.
"Earlier, we had to go to the jungle to collect firewood. It was a time-consuming affair and very difficult too. But now, with the gas connection, I can cook quickly after coming home from somewhere," says Navsu Kondal.
Launched in 2016, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana aims to reach eight crore households by 2020. The government claims to have reached seven crore households in March. As part of the scheme, Maharashtra has received over 40.7 lakh gas connections. The government claims that 82% of the beneficiaries return for an LPG refill.
CP Chouhan, corporator of Kashimira village, claims that he has provided gas connections to 1,200 eligible families in the tribal area and has not taken a single rupee for stoves. "We have given the gas connection for free. The first cylinder is also free, and we have not taken anything for installing the gas stoves either," he says.
Vijay Tandel, a labourer and beneficiary of the scheme, now goes to refill the cylinder regardless of the cost. He says it gets his wife some time out from kitchen work. "Refilling the cylinder comes up to Rs 700, but I have to do it because this has now become a necessity," says Vijay Tandel.
Laxmi Tumbde believes schemes such as these had a big part to play in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's victory in the Lok Sabha elections. "I did think about this while voting. I picked him because PM Modi's government has worked for the poor," she says.
The BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra won 41 of the state's 48 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, leaving five for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance and one for the AIMIM. A Congress-backed independent candidate secured the Amravati constituency.