Two years of Ujjwala Yojana: Dalits in western UP laud benefits despite resentment against Centre on other issues

Editor's note: Over two years have passed since the inauguration of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana in the district of Ballia in Uttar Pradesh. The scheme, which aims to provide LPG connections to economically weaker sections, has often been cited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to showcase the Centre's work towards poverty alleviation. In this series of reports, Firstpost seeks to assess the impact of the scheme on the ground in western Uttar Pradesh.

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 May, 2016 in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Under this scheme, 5 crore LPG connections are to be provided to families below the poverty line with a support of Rs 1,600 per connection in the next three years. According to World Health Organisation estimates, in 2012, close to 1.7 million premature deaths were attributed to household air pollution from cooking in the South East Asia region, with India shouldering the biggest burden.

Under this scheme, after identification of BPL families through census data, the  process of issuing connections in the name of women was started. Rs 8,000 crore was allocated towards the implementation of the scheme. Firstpost reached Dalit-dominated Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh to assess the ground level impact of the policy.

Here, in the last couple of weeks, members of the Dalit community had been vocal about the central government’s 'anti-Dalit' actions, specifically the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 by the Supreme Court.

We asked a resident of the town, Chatar Singh, about where his family cooks its meals. He said that some months ago, the government installed a cooking gas and an LPG cylinder in his home. Although he is critical of the government’s lack of empathy towards Dalits and the arrest of Bhim Army leader Chandrashekar Ravan after last year’s Thakur-Dalit clashes, he has a positive view of the Ujjwala Yojana. He says he that he is relieved that he now only hears the sounds of utensils and sees no smoke emerging out of kitchens.

 Two years of Ujjwala Yojana: Dalits in western UP laud benefits despite resentment against Centre on other issues

A woman using an LPG connection to cook food. Vivek Anand

Shabbirpur was the epicentre of last year’s Dalit-Thakur clashes that burnt over 50 homes and sparked the arrest of leaders of the Bhim Army. Here, cylinders have been distributed to Dalit families under the Ujjwala Yojana. Like Chatar Singh, several others too are upset with the police administration’s attitude towards them. The bitterness lingers but doesn't hold them back from praising this particular government scheme. However, they do add that the benefit of the scheme hasn’t reached everybody below the poverty line. The scheme is similar to the other policies which are ambitious in their reach, like the Swachh Bharat Mission, under which 7,25,78,151 toilets had been constructed (as on 23 May 2018) and the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana launched last year to provide electricity connections to nearly 40 million families by March 2019. The impact of the scheme is visible on the ground in western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district in villages like Shabbirpur and Khushalpur.

Surendari Devi, a resident of Sonta village in the Shamli block of Muzaffarnagar district, received her LPG connection some months ago. She says that this is the first summer where she isn’t dreading standing for long hours in a room full of fumes. She does not even have to worry about the wood turning soggy in the rain. As homes are small in this area, people used to store wood in the outdoors. The burden of collecting and transporting the firewood was also shouldered by women and children, who now have the time and energy for other things.

Kavita, from the same village, says it now takes her an hour or so to cook a meal for her family. In her free time, she teaches her children.

Ajay, who got married quite recently, says he received a gas connection shortly after his wedding. He says there couldn’t have been a better gift than this for his new bride, because guests drop in at any time and it is now convenient to offer them cups of tea.

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, as stated on its website, is likely to result in additional employment of around one lakh people and provide business opportunities worth at least Rs 10,000 crore over the next three years to the Indian industry. The launch of this scheme in several districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is also designed to give an impetus to the manufacture of cylinders, gas stoves and regulators.

Before the implementation of the Ujjwala scheme in April 2016, various state governments had distributed 1.6 million LPG connections to families below the poverty line. Government figures are proof that the plan is on track. Over 70 percent of the target of five crore connections has been disbursed in about two-thirds of the intended time.

In the year 2016-17, out of the total LPG connections distributed by the government, 60 percent were offered under the Ujjwala scheme. Following these figures, the government has extended the scheme by one year and set a target of adding more than three crore families. The government has also provided an additional allocation of Rs 4,800 crore towards the implementation of the scheme and the identification of the BPL families is being done through the Socio-Economic Caste Census data. The goal of the government is to deliver LPG gas connections to eight crore households by 2020.

In western Uttar Pradesh, the resentment towards certain political ideologies doesn't deter Dalit communities from appreciating government schemes that have changed their lives for the better.

Read Part 2: Lack of awareness regarding benefits of LPG hinders scheme's objective at rural level

Updated Date: May 25, 2018 12:02:49 IST