The Pradhan Mantri UJJWALA Yojana improved lives of women across India


Every year 500,000 women and children were losing their lives in India due to pollution caused by the use of traditional fuels such as firewood. In fact, in the poverty bowls of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, many women are also estimated to become partially or fully blind by the time they turn 60. For years these heartbreaks continued – until there came a point in time where India had enough. In May, of 2016 one of the most successful on-ground programmes in India was launched: The Ujjwala Scheme.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched with the aim to provide 5 crore deposit-free Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) connections to women who were below the poverty line in order to safeguard their health by providing them with clean cooking gas. It also wished to promote women empowerment, provide healthy cooking fuel and prevent fossil fuel-related hazardous issues among the millions of rural populations.
Once launched, pride is all a woman in India felt. Pride in the fact that their children were going to have healthy lungs and pride in the fact that India cared. After all these years, the scheme wished to provide women with a second chance at life, as well as a convenient, less-polluted, and healthy lifestyle.
Now, while the scheme does sound truly outstanding, one does begin to wonder: Are these just bold claims made by the government, or is there actually some truth to it?
Well, according to the data provided under the Union Budget 2023-24, 99.8 percent of the over 28 crore households in India, now have access to LPG. This is, no doubt, a huge improvement from the 61.9 percent in 2015. As per the first independent impact assessment of the government’s flagship Ujjwala program, greater penetration and the use of LPG as a cooking fuel has prevented around 1.5 lakh pollution related deaths in the year 2019 itself. Thus, the scheme indirectly also saves the health maintenance costs for the individual, their family and the State. This knowledge itself sheds immense light on the true benefit of this scheme.
Additionally, what is even better is the fact that the government wants to battle outdoor pollution just as much as indoor pollution; and they advance this wish forward with the idea of a “smokeless village”. Now while , it is no surprise that a “smokeless village” is not exactly something that exists just yet, we have certainly improved over the years.
While improving pollution and overall health is a given, the scheme also provides safety for women. You see, women generally belonging to tribal hamlets, often venture into the forests to collect wood for cooking purposes. This leads to them putting themselves in harm’s way; as well as the trees, because cutting them inevitably leads to deforestation. However, now because of the miracle known as LPG, trees are no longer required for cooking, and everything continues to remain ‘protected’.
Finally, and most importantly, one must also consider the economic impact of the scheme. While this consequence of the Ujjwala scheme was unintended it is still very vital, and has led to better income in a lot of homes. For example, the author of a passage, published by ‘India Times’ had the opportunity to meet a young girl, who often stitched footballs for an income, living in a village around 20 kilometers from Meerut. During their discussion the author asked a particular question, to which she replied; “Earlier it used to take me around 3 hours to finish cooking with firewood. After getting LPG connection, it takes around one-and-a-half-hour. During the rest of the time, I stitch footballs. I make around Rs 40 for stitching one ball and I use to stitch two footballs per day. After getting LPG, since I am able to save time in cooking, I am able to stitch three footballs”. That itself is an additional Rs 40 per day or rather that is a marvelous earning of Rs 840 per week compared to the Rs 560 she was making before the installation. Thus, thanks to the installation of LPG she now makes a profit of Rs 280 per week, and what is even greater is the fact that this is just one out of the millions of grateful voices.
So to answer the question presented earlier, there is most definitely a lot of truth to the bold claims made by the government, and it is no surprise that a thoughtful scheme such as this, turned out to be a ‘runaway success’.
However, while it has done wonderfully, the scheme still seems to have not reached its complete potential, just yet; and that is primarily due to three main challenges, begging to be addressed. These challenges are: cost, convenience and culture.
Firstly, let us think about the cost factor of the scheme. You see, a refill of gas costs Rs 900, however, targeted families of the Ujjwala Scheme earn an income of Rs 4000-5000 per week. Hence, families understandably struggle to pay this sum of money as it ends up being almost one-fifth of their weekly earnings. Secondly, convenience. Oftentimes, gas stations are located at a distance from the villages, and therefore, women are unable to make this trip on their own; and once paired with the cost factor, the refill almost feels like a burden to them. Finally, culture. As it turns out, people believe that food cooked on traditional chulhas is tastier and more nutritious. Fortunately, though, the government has already begun to address these attitudes through behavior change campaigns.
However, one must note that if these small blocks are not taken care of, the scheme may bring disillusionment among poverty stricken women and, if the government is not able to address the bottlenecks, the scheme may not be as successful as was earlier contemplated. Apart from this, the scheme has also brought forward the true effect of firewood, and returning back to the same after learning about its effects, may not be very easy for some.
So, although the government has done brilliantly and the scheme is proving to be rather successful already, there is still room for improvement. Therefore, if they put these changes into motion, the success rate of the scheme would be unimaginable, and the government’s expectations with their scheme would also be met.
One suggestion, for the cost factor of this scheme, is that rather than asking for the whole sum of Rs.900 at the time of refill, the government should consider asking for installments/ a smaller sum of money every month or week. A little bit like the tax system. So, for example every week, they pay Rs 200, which compared to the Rs 900 at one go, will be more manageable. This should make it easier for them to pay, as they no longer need to worry about spending almost one-fifth of their earnings on fuel bills. The government should also consider placing an LPG refill booth at every village, so that the women don’t have to undertake a long distance journey, while simultaneously sacrificing the day’s earnings.
So, to conclude, if the government can take these matters up, the scheme would be nothing short of a miracle, and would most certainly lead to lesser health issues. The potential this scheme has is unreal, and we should all collectively look forward to seeing what it evolves into. It is going to be a beautiful journey; Go for it India!