PM Narendra Modi launched the PM Ujjwala Yojana amidst much fanfare in 2016. His government extolled the virtues of the scheme and promised rural Indians a better, healthier lifestyle. As the government celebrates the early completion of its 5 crore connections target for 2019, it appears to have conveniently turned a blind eye to the gaping loopholes in the scheme which has turned it into a liability for its primary beneficiaries. While a triumphant government harped about its record num-ber of connections, PMUY beneficiaries appear to have little reason to celebrate.
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Oblivious to ground realities
The government’s short sighted implementation and execution of the scheme has resulted in a com-plete disregard of the ground realities which include ignoring the low purchasing power of the ma-jority of its beneficiaries and their struggle to cope with the constantly rising fuel prices. The grand publicity over ‘free connections’ was in fact not free but loans which had to be repaid as instalments through the subsidies offered on LPG. With the steady hike in prices, subsidised LPGs will now cost a consumer in Delhi Rs 493.55 per cylinder and Rs 698.50 per cylinder for non-subsidised LPG, which is beyond the purchasing power of most beneficiaries of the scheme.
Statistics from the Ministry of Petroleum also question the relevance of the BJP’s narrative of its success story of 5 crore connections as the numbers reveal a significant disparity between the rise in number of connections and the consumption pattern. While LPG connections witnessed a growth of 6% from 10.2% in 2015-16 to 16.2% in 2016-17, the year-on-year growth in LPG consumption only increased by 0.8% from 9% in 2015-16 to 9.8% in 2016-17. This is no surprise. The study commis-sioned by the government clearly identifies the primary reason deterring consumption of LPGs as the high cost of refills. Had the government not hastily implemented an ill-conceived scheme before the report of the study was prepared, it could have had better insights into the possible challenges. Now, the overall annual consumption rate of LPG cylinders per family is 7 while that of PMUY beneficiaries is a little over 4 cylinders. Inactive connections (connections not refilled for 3 months or more) add upto almost 3.8 crore which brings into perspective the actual impact of the scheme when it comes to promoting long term LPG usage.
No on-ground transformation
The scheme also deserves to be called out for its complete failure to take into account the broader picture of energy consumption. This is reflected by the fact that despite frequent government claims of PMUY being the game changer in India's energy sector, the future of the energy sector continues to remain bleak. The NITI Aayog’s India Energy Security Scenario 2017 predicted that 35% of ru-ral households will still be reliant on biomass for cooking by 2032. This prognosis confirms that the government has actively distorted facts and figures to paint a picture favourable to them.
This distortion is not exclusive to the PMUY. In several other instances, the government has applied clever PR gimmicks to suppress the underlying ground realities. Where on one hand, multiple adver-tisements scream out the ‘historic success’ of the BJP schemes, on the other hand, the plight of its beneficiaries are undermined. Whether it is the PMUY, the DDUGJY, Skill India Mission or other developmental schemes, BJP’s flagship programmes have been more about hype and ‘on paper’ suc-cess and very little about on ground transformation. The government boasts about 100% electrifica-tion of villages but ignores the exorbitant electricity bills that bury the residents in accumulating debt. As the government falters repeatedly on economic grounds and job creation, the purchasing power of the majority of the country’s population remains minimal and the reach of the develop-ment schemes remain limited. As lives of millions of Indians continue to languish in dire circum-stances, one wonders if the euphoria and the self congratulatory attitude of the BJP government is apathetic and misplaced.