Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

“Eighty per cent of people do not come back for refilling,” said Himanshu Parmar, the owner of an HP Gas agency in Mahoba district in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, speaking of the gaping loophole that sits at the heart of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna. Added daily-wage labourer Om Prakash, who lives in Bijapur village in Mahoba, “My daily wages are Rs 200, the refilling costs Rs 900. Do you think I can feed my family this way?”

A flagship programme of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government and an initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched in 2016 with the express aim of providing clean fuel – that is, liquefied petroleum gas – to Below Poverty Line households across the country. The cooking gas connections would be established in the names of women family members only, a much-lauded aspect of the scheme. The policy’s official website is a showcase of its success over two years, and its Media Kit link will leave any researcher suitably impressed. It garnered praise in the World Health Organisation’s pollution report earlier this year and is also the subject of a National Geographic documentary chronicling its impact on the lives of four women across India, the camera tracking closely how their lives have changed phenomenally.

Urmila of Bijapur is clearly not one of them. Having procured the coveted cylinder in May 2017 during an awareness drive, she recalls the excitement it generated at first. The cylinder lasted her family of five a few months, she said, adding that she did not use it regularly. Then one day, it was empty and the truth finally descended on Urmila – the only truth about the policy that matters, the one conveniently left out of the awareness drives. “We were told it was free,” she said. “They were giving it for free, so we got it.” Refilling the cylinder with her own money killed the celebratory mood in her household.

“It’s a huge cost to bear,” Parmar agreed. In comparison, he said, “bio fuel is easily available and free. So they go for the usual cow dung and wood”.

In February, the Union Cabinet approved an allocation of Rs 4,800 crore to the Ujjwala Yojana in an ambitious effort to scale up connections from five crore to eight crore by the end of 2019.

In Mahoba, district supply officer BR Ahirwar listed out the factors under which one can avail of the free cylinder, “They’re in the woman’s name,” he said, predictably. “Poor women” should display their registered Antyodaya cards, “the red ones”, to be sanctioned a cylinder, he said. Another list he consults for the Ujjwala Yojana is one with the names of those “entitled to proper homes under the [Pradhan Mantri] Awas Yojana”, he added.


Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin)

“Bahut ghotala chal raha hai isme [there is a lot of corruption],” said a resident of Faizabad district, now working in Delhi, of the rural housing policy.

Previously called the Indira Awaas Yojana, which was launched in 1996, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin) was restructured in 2016 as part of the government’s “housing for all” drive. Under the scheme, all families living in dilapidated, kachcha homes will be provided pucca homes with basic amenities by 2022. The average cost of a house in rural Uttar Pradesh is Rs 1,20,000 and the sanctioned amount is meant to appear in the bank accounts of beneficiaries in three instalments of Rs 40,000 each. The policy also incorporates 90 days of unskilled labour under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Kalli, of Nivada village in Bundelkhand’s Banda district, has no idea about ghar (home) or mazdoori (work). “We haven’t got either from the government,” she said, sitting under a makeshift roof. The idea of Rs 1 lakh in cash is overwhelming for her.

The paper trail tells a different story. According to overall district numbers in Bundelkhand, 13,395 homes have been sanctioned, out of which 12,062 have been constructed. Kalli’s home is one of the 12,062.

The chief district officer, Hiralal, insists it is just a minor problem of lag. “There is going to be a new, revised list that the government has already approved,” he said. “That survey is pending. Once that is done and we have the new list, we can go about cross-checking who is left.”

However, BJP leader Prem Narayan Dwivedi says the houses will be completed only after the next financial year because the budget is stuck in the current year.

The 'zero balance account' scheme is plagued by erratic internet connectivity and an overall lack of digital literacy. (Credit: PTI)

Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana

The Jan-Dhan Yojana, popularly called the “zero balance account”, is going much the same way as the Ujjwala Yojana, when we map efficacy in rural Bundelkhand. With a thrust on linking banking facilities and conveniences with the last-mile population, the policy aims to sweep the rural populace in a Digital India embrace. However, erratic internet connectivity and a lack of overall digital literacy in the hamlets and villages of rural Uttar Pradesh are the reality.

Farmers queue up for days, at times weeks, Aadhaar in hand, for the subsidised facilities they are entitled to. Often, they return to their fields disappointed, because the machines are not working. “Server down” is a malaise that seems to afflict government offices across Bundelkhand quite often. As one angry farmer in Tadi village, Chitrakoot, put it, “Phalaana nahi chal raha, dhimkana nahi chal raha.” This is not working or that is not working.

Champa was among the first in her village in Chitrakoot to apply for a Jan-Dhan account. “Everyone was running after it then,” she said, voicing the general lack of awareness about government welfare policies among India’s rural, under-privileged population. “We were told it is for poor people, so that poor people can also open a bank account,” she added. “So, I thought I should get one. I thought maybe the government has finally decided to help us, by giving us money. I thought maybe they would now put it into our accounts directly.”

Ramhit of Tarauha village, also in Chitrakoot, got a Jan-Dhan account in his wife’s name but failed to link it to Aadhaar. His only interest was the Rs 1 lakh insurance he was entitled to, he said. At least, that is what he understood. But it turns out Ramhit was referring to the insurance cover on accidents, which is payable if the account holder has performed at least one successful financial or non-financial customer-induced transaction at a bank branch. And since he had not linked the account to Aadhaar, it was rendered non-functional. When asked if he planned to link it now, he was non-committal and seemed largely unconvinced.

Another peculiar problem that plagues the Jan-Dhan Yojana has to do with the local implementation machinery, which almost always involves bank mitras and lekhpals. They are usually self-styled accountants who manipulate the digitally illiterate populations of the villages where they live and work, tricking them into monetary transactions that are beneficial only to them. This when the Jan-Dhan Yojana is meant to successfully provide last-mile banking connectivity in tandem with bank mitras.

Beneficiaries of the Jan Arogya Yojana have been told they are part of the world's most ambitious healthcare scheme but know little else about it. (Credit: National Health Agency / Twitter)

Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana

“Nikat bhavishya [near future]” is the timeline the soft-spoken Santosh Kumar, Banda’s chief medical officer, assigns to the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana in his district. He says the health insurance policy has been running successfully since it was launched on August 15, but also that process is slow. “See, the new lists have been downloaded in May and June,” Kumar said. “There was some error with the old ones. Now these are being fed into the computer one by one. Things have changed since May. Someone’s family has one member less now, the elderly patriarch passed away. So, these revisions take time. Now, on the basis of these revisions, health cards will be issued.”

The Rs 5 lakh insurance cover per family per year – “the expense of which will be borne by the government of India alongwith insurance companies”, Modi had declared at the launch – is currently of little use in Banda, where the three hospitals that come under the scheme (for men, women and children) are all seriously under-staffed.

In a district where 78,000 urban families and 1,12,064 rural families have been identified as rightful beneficiaries thus far, the Banda District Hospital (for men) needs 27 medical professionals but is 15 short. The situation is only marginally better at the district hospital for women, which is three short of the required 15 doctors. Non-committal about the expected success of the scheme, Chief Medical Officer (Women) Dr Usha Singh said, “Since it is the prime minister’s scheme, we will do our best to make it a success.”

In Banda’s Mahua village, 18,091 forms have been filled by eligible beneficiaries and submitted under the scheme. Ashish Kumar, the arogya mitra, says he is now working on the “card generation process”. Scrolling down his computer screen, he shows us list after list of beneficiaries. “I have just logged on to the website,” he explained. “See, now I will put in their mobile numbers.” With his mobile phone, Kumar takes pictures of the beneficiaries, and potential beneficiaries, who have come to be part of the world’s most ambitious healthcare programme. That is what they have been told.

But when we meet Krishna Kumar, a fair price shop owner in Mahua village, he has never heard of the Jan Arogya Yojana. “Is this the one for young girls,” he asked. “Beti Bachao wala?”

And therein hangs a tale.