The government on Wednesday gave out the 6-croreth free cooking gas (LPG) connection as the scheme to make available cleaner fuel in every household kitchens runs ahead of schedule.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu handed over papers for an LPG connection under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) - which was launched on May 1, 2016, with a target to give 5 crore connections by March 2019 - to a Muslim lady Jasmina Khatoon from Shivpark, Khanpur in the national capital.
The target was later raised to 8 crore connections by 2021 and now envisages giving all households a connection.
Speaking on the occasion, Naidu termed the scheme as revolutionary and "possibly the world's biggest poverty alleviation programme."
The scheme together with a government push to replace polluting firewood in kitchens has led to LPG coverage rising to almost 90 per cent of the population from 55 per cent in May 2014, he said.
Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said as many as 23 crore refills or about 4 cylinders of 14.2-kg each have been bought by PMUY beneficiaries in a year, thereby 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 installments. However, the cost of all subsequent refills has to be borne by the beneficiary household.
Last month, 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 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, the 5-croreth free LPG connection under the scheme too was given to a Muslim lady, Takrdiran, a resident of Sangam Vihar of the national capital, in August last year by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
Naidu said that the Indian economy is striving fast to become the third largest economy of the world, and the schemes like PMUY deal with the social aspect of the growth story, by its inclusiveness.
He said that the Prime Minister has called for 'Reform, Perform and Transform' and this initiative of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is a giant step in transforming the lives of the people. It not only tackles the health and environmental problems due to household smoke but also empowers the women and restores control to them over their destiny.
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 54 months.