Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said his government has distributed 10 crore LPG connections in four years, including four crore free to poor women of which 45 per cent beneficiaries have been Dalits and tribals resulting in a "big social transformation".
Underling his government's pro-poor credentials, Modi also took a dig at the previous regimes saying when he was young, the rich and influential people would get the LPG and tell the poor that it was unsafe to have a gas connection at home.
"When we would ask them why do they have it in their homes, they were silent," he said.
Interacting through video-conference with some women beneficiaries who received free cooking gas connection under the Ujjwala Yojana, a flagship welfare scheme aimed at increasing LPG coverage among the poor, the prime minister said 10 crore LPG connections have been given in the last four years as compared to 13 crore in six decades since independence.
Modi recalled his own childhood saying his mother struggled with smoke emitting from cooking on firewood or cow dung, and asserted that his government will increase coverage of clean fuel to 100 per cent households in the near future.
He said it was the rich and influential who received the domestic gas connection earlier but his government has kept the poor at the centre of the drive.
He said 81 families out of 100 have the LPG connection now.
Referring to Dalits, a politically key constituency being vigorously wooed by the ruling BJP, Modi said they have benefited from his government's schemes and reeled out data comparing various benefits being given to the community now with what they had received under the Congress-led UPA government.
While Dalits got 445 petrol pumps under 2010-14 during the UPA rule, more than 1200 of them got it during 2014-18 in his government's rule, Modi said, adding the corresponding figures for LPG distribution centres for the community are over 900 and 1300, respectively.
This information may surprise those who have become leaders of Dalits, he said.
"Since people started to get benefits under the Ujjwala Yojana, a big social transformation is visible. I am happy to tell you that out of its four crore beneficiaries 45 per cent are Dalits and tribals," he said.
The LPG reach is now 100 per cent in 70 per cent villages and more than 75 per cent in 81 per cent villages, he said.
The clean fuel is leading to healthy India, Modi said, citing benefits of LPG fuel.
During the recent 'Gram Swaraj Yojna', 11 lakh people received LPG connection in one day, he said, adding more and more are joining the list of beneficiaries.
"Ujjwala Yojana has strengthened the lives of the poor, marginalised, Dalits, tribal communities. This initiative is playing a central role in social empowerment," Modi said.
During his interaction, a group of women from Anantnag in Kashmir told him, "This is the month of Ramzan. We read the Holy Quran daily. We are going to pray daily for you and we hope that you continue to serve us as the prime minister."
Modi recalled that when he was young he had many Muslim neighbours.
The prime minister also recalled a character, Hamid, from Premchand's famous story Idgah and said he gets inspired by him.
"The story is about young Hamid, who does not buy sweets or gifts during Id but buys a 'Chimta' so that his grandmother does not burn her hands while cooking. This continues to inspire me. If Hamid can do it, then why not the prime minister," he said, adding that his government had decided to expand the scheme to cover eight crore instead of earlier five crore families.
Modi said he felt that earlier governments did not take up this challenge as they wanted to work for the rich.
Ujjwala scheme was launched in May 2016 to provide in three years as many as 5 crore free LPG connections to women from extremely poor households. It also aims to reduce the use of polluting fuels such as wood and dried cow dung that, according to the World Health Organization, cause 1.3 million premature deaths in India every year.
The target was raised to 8 crore this year by adding two additional years.
India aims to increase liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) usage to cover 80 per cent of its households by March 2019, against 72.8 percent in 2017. The Prime Minister did not give a date for achieving 100 per cent coverage.
Under the scheme, the government gives a subsidy of Rs 1,600 to state-owned fuel retailers for every free LPG connection installed in poor rural households without one.
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 and refills.
The government, he said, is very serious in eliminating middlemen and so the beneficiary list has been made transparent.
Apart from those included under socio-economic caste census to avail the scheme, the extended Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana would now cover all SC/ST households, most backward classes, beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin), Antyoday Anna Yojana, forest dwellers, people residing in river and river islands.
Modi said the government is targeting one lakh LPG Panchayats (peer learning platforms to support behaviour change in Ujjwala beneficiaries) this year to boost the LPG refill consumption and provide a window for the benefits of cleaner fuel to become visible.
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