The government on Friday gave out the 7-croreth free cooking gas (LPG) connection as the scheme to make available cleaner fuel in every household kitchens runs ahead of schedule.
Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said 7 crore connections have been realised in last 34 months under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) which translates into nearly 69,000 connections per day.
PMUY was launched on May 1, 2016, with a target to give 5 crore connections to women member of poor households by March 2019. The target was later raised to 8 crore connections by 2021 and now envisages giving all households a connection.
The scheme together with a government push to replace polluting firewood in kitchens has led to LPG coverage rising to 93 per cent of the population from 55 per cent in May 2014, he said.
"On the occasion of International Women's Day, we have crossed 7-crore connection mark. The scheme is running ahead of schedule," he said on the occasion. "As many as 42 per cent of the total connections have gone to SC/ST."
The maximum 1.26 crore connections have been released in Uttar Pradesh followed by 78 lakh in West Bengal and 77.51 lakh in Bihar.
As many as 63.31 lakh connections have been released in Madhya Pradesh and 55.34 lakh in Rajasthan.
Pradhan said nearly 6,800 new distributorships have been added to strengthen the rural supply chain.
As many as 23 crore refills or about 4 cylinders of 14.2-kg each have been bought by PMUY beneficiaries in a year, he said rejecting criticism of the scheme that households reverted to firewood and other mediums of cooking once the initial free LPG cylinder was exhausted.
Under the scheme, the government provides a subsidy of Rs 1,600 to state-owned fuel retailers for every free LPG gas connection that they give to poor households. This subsidy is intended to cover the security fee for the cylinder and the fitting charges.
The beneficiary has to buy her own cooking stove. To reduce the burden, the scheme allows beneficiaries to pay for the stove and the first refill in monthly instalments.
However, the cost of all subsequent refills has to be borne by the beneficiary household.
In December 2018, the government extended PMUY to all poor households.
The scheme originally targeted giving free LPG connections to mostly rural women members of below the poverty line (BPL) households.
The list was later expanded to include all SC/ST households, forest dwellers, most backward classes, inhabitants of islands, nomadic tribes and tea estates among others.
The step will further increase penetration of LPG to 100 per cent households, he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) hailed PMUY as decisive intervention by the government to facilitate the switch to clean household energy use, thereby addressing the problems associated with indoor household pollution.
Incidentally, functions previously organised to mark giving of 5-croreth and 6-croreth connection in August 2018 and January this year saw a Muslim lady being chosen for the purpose. On Friday, the 7-croreth connection was handed over to a Hindu lady and the connection after that to a Muslim lady.
Pradhan said, only 13 crore cooking gas connections were given in the first 50 years since the launch of LPG and almost a similar number of connections have been given out by the present government in last 55 months.