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To solve Ujjwala refill problem, govt takes a leaf out of Sushma Swaraj’s book

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The petroleum ministry will take help from the rural development ministry to use women’s self-help groups, gram panchayats etc to fix the issue.

New Delhi: As the Centre refines its flagship subsidised gas cylinders scheme to address the fact that beneficiaries aren’t refilling cylinders on account of price and accessibility, two ministries have taken a leaf out of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s book to solve part of the problem.

“In a meeting headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Swaraj mentioned how, in some distant areas of her constituency Vidisha (in Madhya Pradesh) , villagers have set up a makeshift storage facility for LPG cylinders for Ujjwala beneficiaries. This helped both the distributors, who were reluctant to deliver at faraway areas, and people who too didn’t need to travel 15-10 km to refill their cylinders,” said a senior official who was present in the meeting.

Also read: President Mukherjee promotes Modi’s flagship Ujjwala Scheme in son’s LS constituency

Now, the petroleum ministry will take help from the rural development ministry to use women’s self-help groups, gram panchayats, fair price shops or other bodies to set up such points of delivery. “These points of delivery will be formally launched in August in states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. The law stipulates that one can store up to twenty 5 kg cylinders,” said Ashutosh Jindal, joint secretary in the petroleum ministry who has been involved in the Ujjwala scheme since its inception.

Refilling issues

Refilling issues have plagued the ambitious Ujjwala scheme, which aims to give subsidised cooking gas connections to poor households. The scheme now has 49 million beneficiaries and Prime Minister Modi has set the target of 80 million, at an additional cost of Rs 4,800 crore.

“India has 55 million self-help groups and 3.1 million elected panchayat leaders. This force can be the backbone for rolling out new process or schemes in rural areas,” added rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha.

To further ease things on the supply side, the officials added that around 5,000 new LPG distributors will be appointed by March 2019 primarily for the rural areas.

While these steps are likely to improve accessibility, the government has also launched smaller, 5 kg cylinders to give customers the option to buy cooking gas at a lower price. A 5 kg cylinder costs Rs 275 in Delhi while the 14.2 kg version is priced at Rs 754. The subsidy on the 5 kg cylinder is Rs 90.95, said an official. These cylinders will be available at 2,500 points across India.

Also read: Big task for BJP morchas: Contact 25 crore beneficiaries of govt schemes before 2019 polls

“The idea is that if people are not in a position to shell out the money to buy the 14.2 kg cylinder, they can buy the smaller one for immediate need,” added Jindal.

As the Ujjwala scheme spreads its wings, complaints of distributors’ malpractices have also emerged. The government has come down heavily on those involved, officials said. As many as 10 distributors have had their licences scrapped and more than 100 agencies have been fined. The typical fine was below Rs 5 lakh but in one case, “a fine of Rs 4 crore was imposed”, said Jindal.

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