Ashutosh Jindal , joint secretary, ministry of petroleum and natural gas talks about the problems in distribution of LPG connection.
Many women in Ballia, UP, say it is difficult for them to collect even a small amount for refilling gas.
We frankly don’t have a clear answer to that. But it is firstly important for us to convince the women and other people and educate them about the benefits of LPG. Once they are convinced they will find a way to save money. There are people from these villages who would rather spend money on cow dung than on a gas connection. But we are getting a feedback where women are saying that they will try their best to save money and collect about '500 a month.
Many women still use chulha despite having a gas connection.
We are working on that. We have some cultural issues too. We have constantly been in touch with the officials who are working on the ground. There are problems like women refusing to use the gas during the month of Shravan. So we can’t force them to start using it immediately. But we are trying our best to convince them. Also, it’s been just three months, so we need to give them time to adapt to this new development in their lives.
A few gas agencies claim they don’t provide connections to women living in kutcha houses as it poses the threat of fire. But in Ballia, connections were provided in such homes too. What about safety?
LPG is heavier than air. So, if you have a thatched ceiling but a mud wall, then there is no harm. LPG does not go up like other gases; it goes down. But if you have a thatched wall along with a thatched roof, then that is risky. And yes, we definitely have to be careful while providing connections and we’ll work on that.
The local distributors say the SECC 2011 survey is old and many eligible women are still struggling to get the connection. Your comments?
SECC data was collected in 2011. It comes under the ministry of rural development. A proper procedure was followed whereby the list had to be first approved by the gram sabha. This entire work was done by the district administration and state administration and went on till 2012-13. The data is quite old but this is the most recent we have. We are now trying to find ways to update this data and rectify it because there are a lot of errors. We have also received a lot of complaints.
What kind of complaints?
There is mismatch of names. Their allotted TIN is missing. Some families were not there earlier [during the survey]. Some of them might have migrated now. There are other problems as well. For example, if two brothers have separated then the other cannot avail this facility because a connection has already been issued to that family. We are trying to update these cases.
How is the government trying to update the data?
In 2011, our enumerators went door to door. They were provided with tablets to store names. After making a list of these names, a procedure of claim and objection was followed, where the gram sabha voted for the names enlisted and then it was approved. The idea is to keep it transparent. And we will probably be doing the same next time as well and hopefully soon. We are working on it closely with the ministry of rural development.
Why can’t anybody with a BPL card claim the connection?
Just before Ujjwala was launched, we had come up with a scheme called corporate social responsibility fund scheme, where the BPL families could avail new LPG connection without paying security deposit of one cylinder and one pressure regulator. It was given on the basis of their BPL cards only. But we received a lot of complaints where we got to know that the real BPL families never got the connection and people who didn’t come under the BPL category were enjoying the benefits. So, that’s how we decided to go for the SECC 2011 data, which was the most recent data we had. But yes, I admit, it needs to be updated. But then again no data is perfect.
Local distributors complain of political pressure in providing LPG connections. Have you received any such complaints?
We have received some complaints verbally but the point is that anybody can apply. We have a strong system so it is nothing like anyone can pressurise. We are moving strictly according to the system.
What is your target and in how many states has the scheme been implemented?
The scheme was launched in May, and in three months we have provided the connection to 20.5 lakh people. We are giving priority to states which have lower LPG coverage than the national average. So we are focusing more on states like Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, etc. where remote areas in districts like Ballia are of primary importance. In Gujarat we have reached areas where there is dire need of LPG connections. We launched the scheme from Ballia as it is in eastern Uttar Pradesh and is one of the most under-covered parts of the country. Till now, we have covered 22 states where the scheme is being implemented, out of which 14 have lower LPG coverage.
(The interview appears in November 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)