Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the 2023-2024 budget, on February 1, said that 9.6 crore liquefied petroleum gas or cooking gas connections were provided under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
More than 9.58 crore gas connections have been released under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme, as of February 2, data from the official Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana website show. However, 9.6% of beneficiaries took no cooking gas refills, 11.3% took only one refill and 56.5% took four or fewer refills in 2021-’22, according to data provided in the Lok Sabha in July and data from a response given in the Rajya Sabha on August 1.
A typical household using only liquefied petroleum gas for cooking, whether in urban or rural India, would need at least seven cylinders a year to meet all its cooking energy needs, a 2020 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think tank, had found.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, in May 2016, launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana as a “flagship scheme with an aim to make clean cooking fuel, such as liquefied petroleum gas, accessible to rural households, which were otherwise using traditional cooking fuels such as firewood, coal, cow-dung cakes etc”. The target was 8 crore liquefied petroleum gas connections to poor households by March 2020. The government said that the target was met on September 7, 2019.
In 2021, the government launched Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana 2.0 to cover an additional 1 crore households with a special focus on migrant households. The target was achieved in January 2022, as per a Lok Sabha response on February 2, along with an additional target of 60 lakh connections.
From May 21, 2022, the government announced a Rs 200 subsidy per 14.2 kg cylinder for Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana beneficiaries, for up to 12 refills a year during 2022-’23, as per the December 2022 Rajya Sabha response.
The budget allocation for “liquefied petroleum gas connection to Poor Households” in the 2023-’24 Union budget is Rs 0.01 crore, a drop of 99.99% compared to the budget estimate of Rs 800 crore and revised estimates of Rs 8,010 crore in 2022-’23. The budget for the Direct Benefit Transfer as a subsidy to households for purchasing refills remained unchanged at Rs 180 crore, compared to the revised estimates of 2022-’23 while it dropped by 95.5% as compared to the Rs 4,000 crore budget estimate of 2022-’23.
When FactChecker asked if the scheme had been disbanded, Pardeep Kumar, from the Marketing Division of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, clarified that the scheme is operational but refused to comment on the reasons for the fall in allocation.
FactChecker has also reached out to Sitharaman’s office, Pankaj Jain, secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Praveen Mal Khanooja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas via phone and email for clarifications and comment on the lack of refills at the consumer end and the drop in the budget for the scheme. We will update the story when we receive a response.
Fewer cylinder refills
The main reason for fewer cylinder refills is due to the high cost of refilling them. When Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched in May 2016, the price of a standard non-subsidised 14.2 kg liquefied petroleum gas cylinder in Delhi was Rs 527.5. This had doubled to Rs 1,053 by July 2022, FactChecker had reported in October. The prices of liquefied petroleum gas have remained unchanged since July.
Most beneficiaries IndiaSpend Hindi interviewed in January said that they didn’t have enough money to refill cylinders. When asked the reason for not refilling their gas cylinders, Sukhnand Kumar from Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh said, “What do we do, we are daily wage labourers, we are unable to fill it.”
“Direct benefit transfer rules require people to first refill their cylinders before receiving a subsidy. It is difficult for poor families to get the cylinder refilled from their own pocket and to wait for the subsidy amount in the future,” Binit Das, Deputy Programme Manager for renewable energy at the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based research and advocacy think tank had told FactChecker in October. “It is better that the government spend the subsidy in advance than place the economic burden of clean fuel on the poor.”
“The challenge with maintaining access to liquefied petroleum gas is because oil prices have become unaffordable at this point,” Bhargav Krishna, Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a public policy think-tank based in Delhi, told FactChecker. “The scheme is dependent on states to find innovative financing mechanisms to be able to provide for running this but I don’t think states are keen either.”
“The prices of petroleum products in the country are linked to the price of respective products in the international market,” Rameswar Teli, minister of state in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, had told the Rajya Sabha in July 2022. India imports about 58% of the liquefied petroleum gas consumed domestically. liquefied petroleum gas prices are based on the Saudi Contract Prices which had surged by 218% – from $236 per metric tonne in April 2020 to $750 per metric tonne in June 2022, according to his response.
“While there have been substantial increases in commitment to adjacent sectors such as transport, the almost total phase out of subsidies for liquefied petroleum gas signal an end to the initially ground-breaking Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana,” Krishna wrote in Centre for Policy Research’s blog on the Union Budget 2023-’24. “The lack of subsidies, coupled with the substantial increase in prices of liquefied petroleum gas over the last year will almost certainly mean more households will revert to using polluting cooking fuels in their homes, harming the health especially of women and children.”
This article first appeared on FactChecker.in, a publication of the data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit IndiaSpend.