Get Private Cooking Gas Marketers In
It is welcome that the Union Budget seeks to modernise the cooking fuel of all five crore households below the poverty line in the next two years or so. What has been outlined is a ‘massive mission’ to provide LPG cooking gas connections to poor households: .₹ 2,000 crore has been budgeted this fiscal, and the target is to provide LPG cylinders to 1.5 crore families. However, it would be poor policy indeed if the LPG cylinder rollout remains a monopoly of the trio of public sector oil companies: Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum. It would be at huge avoidable national cost. Instead, we need to boost parallel marketing in a big way and step-up private sector participation. It would provide much-needed competitive pressures to shore up cylinder availability, improve service quality and arrest costs and markups across the supply chain. For sound parallel marketing, we need guidelines on improved market design including norms for sharing infrastructure, say, for fuel storage and supply, with private providers. Without initial nurturing, the parallel market would hardly take off. It was tried out back in1993 but sans norms for hiring storage capacity and the like, proved a non-starter.
Cooking on an open fire using traditional fuel is a major indoor pollution and health hazard, akin to burning 400 cigarettes an hour, and the flame from LPG cylinders promises to transform public health for rural women in particular. Yet, LPG for cooking is a dated practice that has been phased out in most parts of the world. In urban areas, we need to ramp up piped natural gas supply for cooking and heating. In rural areas, electricity or, in its absence, modern smokeless chullahs that use local biomass would be better substitutes. Rural electricity will soon cease to be the stuff of dreams or tall poll promises.