Mumbai: PM Narendra Modi's pet project runs out of gas

Updated: Jan 13, 2020, 07:38 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

While CAG audit report says 90 per cent of target met on providing cooking gas connections to India's poor, it admits that the issue of refilling cylinders is a problem that is yet to be tackled

Amol Madavi shows the cooking gas cylinder dumped in one corner of his house in Gattepayali village. Pic /Suresh Karkera
Amol Madavi shows the cooking gas cylinder dumped in one corner of his house in Gattepayali village. Pic /Suresh Karkera

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India's (CAG) audit on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) released last month (December 2019), says it has met nearly 90 per cent of its aim of giving clean cooking fuel to 80 million people by March 2020. However, tribals in Gattepayali village in Gadchiroli, who benefited from the scheme initially, continue to cook with firewood. They still cannot afford to refill their cylinders by paying Rs 900, a fact mid-day had highlighted in 'Deep Inside Gadchiroli, A Tale Of Two Gas Schemes,' on April 11, 2019. Gattepayali village is located 29-30 km from Gadchiroli district and most of the 80-odd houses here got the cooking gas connection by paying a mere Rs 200. But villagers such as Amol Madavi and Shivaji Dugga who spoke to mid-day in April 2019, still continue to cook with firewood and the cylinders lie useless in their houses, as they cannot afford to refill them.

The CAG report does admit that sustained refill is a challenge, as many beneficiaries are not changing the LPG cylinder regularly. The CAG has also proposed recommendations in the 94-page report.

When informed about the issue of refilling cylinders, a senior CAG official said, "In all fairness we are implementing the scheme, but to find what level it reaches the last rung of beneficiaries is the collective responsibility of the block and district level officials. We have made our observations in the audit report and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), after it is laid in the Parliament, may take suo motu action, after seeking clarity from department secretaries concerned on the basis of the report."

'We are expanding dealer network'

Shekhar Singh, Collector, Gadchiroli, said, "We are in the process of expanding the dealer network in remote tribal areas where the PMUY benefits could reach maximum hamlets. I will check and revert about the refilling problem faced in Gattepayali."

Shekhar Singh, Collector, GadchiroliShekhar Singh, Collector, Gadchiroli

Dr Abhay Bang, founder of SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health), said, SEARCH has never carried out any survey on the Ujjwala scheme in the tribal and remote villages of Gadchiroli. "As per my impression, even today, over 80 per cent of the people might be dependent on natural means of biomass viz firewood and cow dung instead of opting for refilling LPG cylinders, due to affordability and convenience issue."

He added, "Anything given at a subsidised price or free is welcome, but many tribal hamlets in Gadchiroli district are located in deep forest areas, which might be almost 30 to 60 km from the town/district area, where even LPG cooking gas dealers won't find it economical to provide doorstep services. Usually, during winter the tribes use the firewood/cow dung which is available in abundance and free of cost. They use firewood for bonfires for nights, as they cannot afford warm clothes. These tribals are traditionally very skilled in converting natural resources into fire and fuel."

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