Ujjwala mis­sion: A work in progress

Liq­ue­fied pe­tro­leum gas dis­tri­bu­tion has spiked across In­dia, but a pol­icy dilemma per­sists

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Comment - BIBEK DEBROY Bibek Debroy is chair­man of Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil to the Prime Min­is­ter and a mem­ber of Niti Aayog The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

There is a clichéd ex­pres­sion about a glass be­ing half-empty or half­full. ““Do you know Al­ge­bra?” said the rab­bit. “Yes, I liked it in high school,” said Alice. “What is one of the ax­ioms of Al­ge­bra?” asked rab­bit. “Equal mul­ti­ples of equals are equal,” said Alice, se­lect­ing the first she re­mem­bered. “In­deed!” said the Rab­bit. “You will ad­mit that a bot­tle half-full is a bot­tle half-empty.” “Yes,” said Alice, won­der­ing what was com­ing now. “Well, mul­ti­ply both sides by two, and a bot­tle full is a bot­tle empty,” said the Rab­bit.” Oddly enough, fa­mil­iar though it is, the an­tecedents of the half-empty half-full ex­pres­sion aren’t easy to pin down. From an on­line dis­cus­sion on et­y­mol­ogy, I dis­cov­ered that the quote I have given is the ear­li­est known ref­er­ence. The Na­tional Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Math­e­mat­ics (USA) has a jour­nal called “The Math­e­mat­ics Teacher” and this ap­peared there in 1927.

The 2011 Cen­sus wasn’t a long time ago. The Cen­sus asks a ques­tion about house­holds with ameni­ties. One such amenity ques­tion is about the per­cent­age of house­holds who use LPG/PNG for cook­ing. All In­dia, the per­cent­age who use LPG/CNG in­creased from 17.5% in 2001 to 28.5% in 2011. Specif­i­cally, for ru­ral house­holds, the in­crease was from 5.7% to 11.4%. If house­holds don’t use LPG/CNG for cook­ing, what do they use? A large chunk is fire­wood. (There is go­bar gas, crop residue and char­coal too.) Cen­sus 2011 tells us, in 2011, 62.5% of ru­ral house­holds used fire­wood for cook­ing. Roughly, not ex­actly, there are sim­i­lar num­bers from the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey (NSS). Hence, a lit­tle more than 100 mil­lion ru­ral house­holds use fire­wood. This means ad­verse health ef­fects, with a gen­der angle thrown in, and is­sues of col­lect­ing that fire­wood. There­fore, on May 1, 2016, the Prad­han Mantri Ujjwala Yo­jana (PMUY) was launched in Bal­lia, Ut­tar Pradesh. The bare bones are the fol­low­ing. One, through the PMUY, a new LPG con­nec­tion will be is­sued in the name of a woman from a BPL house­hold, as long as it is a new con­nec­tion. Two, the BPL (below the poverty line) iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is on the ba­sis of the ru­ral so­cio-eco­nomic and caste cen­sus (SECC), at least one de­pri­va­tion. Sep­a­rate guide­lines for ur­ban and other kinds of house­holds have been added to the orig­i­nal tem­plate in April 2018. Three, the gov­ern­ment pays Rs 1,600 for that new con­nec­tion. (This is re­im­bursed to the oil mar­ket­ing com­pany.) Four, The ben­e­fi­ciary has to pay for the stove and re­fill. (There is an EMI op­tion.) Five, there was a tar­get of 15 mil­lion con­nec­tions in the first year and 50 mil­lion in the first three years. Those three years would have ended in 2019.

A few days ago, a doc­u­ment ti­tled “48 Months of Trans­form­ing In­dia” was brought out. That gives a fig­ure of 38 mil­lion women hav­ing ob­tained LPG con­nec­tions and we are also told the tar­get has been in­creased from 50 mil­lion to 80 mil­lion. In ad­di­tion, there is a per­for­mance dash­board at my­gov.in and since it is real time, it is more cur­rent than the first doc­u­ment. The dash­board shows a fig­ure of 41 mil­lion.

Is some­thing like the PMUY a good idea? I haven’t met any­one who has said it is a bad idea. Is there any du­plic­ity (per­haps I should have writ­ten mul­ti­plic­ity) and dou­ble count­ing in the num­bers? Be­cause of sev­eral dili­gence checks used, I haven’t met any­one who has claimed that. Hence, half-full ver­sus halfempty. Those who want to fill the glass look upon it as half-full and those who want to empty the glass look upon it as half-empty. Per­cep­tion is coloured by the lens one wears.

It is also a fact that im­prove­ments face the phe­nom­e­non of the bar be­ing con­stantly raised. There­fore, there is a cri­tique that ar­gues the fol­low­ing. The PMUY is fine. How­ever, hav­ing in­tro­duced the PMUY, you need to build on it. De­spite get­ting a LPG con­nec­tion, peo­ple don’t re­fill cylin­ders. Why don’t they? Bor­der­ing on the spec­u­la­tive, one can hy­poth­e­sise.

Even when sub­sidised, LPG costs are high. Fire­wood is cheaper and neg­a­tive ex­ter­nal­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with fire­wood not ap­pre­ci­ated enough.

The mar­ket wants smaller cylin­ders (5 kg), but dis­trib­u­tors only sup­ply larger ones (14.2 kg). Rs 1,600 still means losses for oil mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies and with­out re­fills, dis­trib­u­tors suf­fer losses.

De­spite such el­e­ments of a cri­tique, it is not ob­vi­ous what the pol­icy de­duc­tions are. Is there an argument for in­creas­ing subsidy on sub­sidised LPG cylin­der fur­ther? Is it an argument for in­creas­ing the fixed cost subsidy be­yond Rs 1,600? Is there a case for tweak­ing EMI pro­vi­sions? (I haven’t gone into these de­tails.) Or is this sim­ply a case of mar­kets re­act­ing with a time lag?

Oddly enough, not too many peo­ple in metro In­dia seem to know that April 20 is cel­e­brated as Ujjwala Di­was, a part of Gram Swaraj Ab­hiyan (GSA).

In­deed, many don’t seem to know about the GSA. Full for ru­ral may mean empty for metro.

HIT

Ac­cord­ing to the 2011 Cen­sus, the use of cook­ing gas in ru­ral house­holds rose from 5.7% to 11.4% from 2001

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