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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched a Rs 8,000 crore scheme to provide 5 crore free LPG connections to poor families as he attacked previous governments for just paying lip service to reducing poverty.
Calling himself ‘Shramik No.1’ (Worker No.1), he listed out initiatives taken by his government for the welfare of labourers.
Poverty, he said, can be eradicated only if poor are empowered, given resources and opportunities as well as education, jobs, houses, drinking water and electricity. He questioned the policies pursued by the previous government for poverty eradication, saying poverty has only increased during past years. “We are working to fight poverty,” he said, adding that under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, free LPG connections will be provided in name of women members of BPL households.
In the first year, 1.5 crore such connections will be released and the target of 5 crore will be completed in three years, he said, comparing it to the just 13 crore LPG connections provided in 60 years of independence. “In my first speech in Central Hall of Parliament after BJP government came to power (in 2014), I had said my government is dedicated to poor. “Whatever this government does will be for the benefit of the poor and for the welfare of poor,” he said as he listed out various labour-friendly initiatives, including raising minimum pension to Rs 1,000 and introduction of labour identification number (LIN). Also, the maximum wage that entitles bonus to workers has been raised to Rs 21,000 from Rs 10,000 per month previously, while the bonus limit too has been doubled to Rs 7,000. Provident fund (PF) portability has been provided to help utilise the Rs 27,000 crore of retirement benefits lying unused because of workers changing jobs or cities. On March 27, Modi had officially launched the ‘Give-it-Up’ campaign, urging the well-off to surrender their LPG subsidy so that it can be given to the needy.
The aim is also to bring down the country’s dependence on energy imports by 10 per cent by 2022. “Responding to the call, 1.10 crore people have given up their subsidies,” he said. Subsidy surrendered will be used to provide free LPG connection to BPL families. Consumers are currently entitled to 12 cylinders of 14.2 kg each or 34 bottles of 5 kg each in a year at subsidised rates.
A subsidised 14.2-kg cylinder is currently available at Rs 419.15 per bottle in Delhi while the 5-kg pack costs Rs 155. Market-priced LPG is available at Rs 509.50 per 14.2-kg cylinder. Giving up subsidised LPG will help cut the government’s subsidy bill, which was at Rs 30,000 crore for the fuel last fiscal. Nearly Rs 5,000 crore of subsidy saved through the campaign is being used to provide LPG connection to the poor. “We have released 60 lakh new connection to poor in the last one year,” he said. Under the scheme launched today, a financial support of Rs 1,600 for each LPG connection will be provided to the BPL households. The identification of eligible BPL families will be made in consultation with the state governments and the Union Territories.
The country currently has 16.64 crore active LPG consumers. Stating that LPG coverage is being increased, he said there are serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuels. According to WHO estimates, about 5 lakh deaths occur in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels.
Experts say having an open fire in the kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour. Providing LPG connections to BPL households will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country and this will empower women and protect their health, he said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had in his Budget for 2016-17 provided Rs 2,000 crore to provide deposit free LPG connections to 1.5 crore women belonging to BPL families. Further, the Budget announced that the scheme will be continued for two more years to cover 5 crore households.
Modi said he had last year pledged to electrify 18,000 villages where even an electricity pole has not reached so far, in next 1,000 days.