New Delhi: Several districts in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh lead the list of beneficiaries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to give liquified petroleum gas (LPG), or cooking gas, connections to the poor without upfront charges, a scheme that is turning out to be akin to the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s entitlement scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Within seven months of its launch on 1 May at Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, the Ujjwala scheme has so far covered 642 districts, benefiting more than 10 million poor women across the country, about 40% of who belong to scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST), according to official estimates.
The rural jobs scheme, which created 1.35 billion person days of work in 2015-16 up to December-end, too benefited this group of women by a similar measure—23% of work days for SCs and 17% for STs, as per Union budget documents. The rural jobs scheme launched in February 2006 in 200 districts was extended to the entire country in two years.
Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh leads the beneficiary list of Ujjwala with 129,000 cooking gas connections, followed by Allahabad (126,000), Khusinagar (116,000), Unnao (87,752) and Gonda (84,173).
Uttar Pradesh is the largest beneficiary state with 3.4 million poor women getting connections, followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha.
Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the north-eastern states, too, have got priority status under the scheme, with no cap on the number of connections to be issued.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) performed well in Uttar Pradesh , Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in the 2014 general election, the party wants to consolidate its position in Odisha and make further inroads into the north-eastern states, which together account for 25 Lok Sabha seats.
In the north-east, the BJP has a government in Assam and is part of the governments in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
Similarly, West Bengal and Odisha are crucial for the BJP because the two states together control 63 Lok Sabha seats. In Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP won seats in Jammu and Ladakh regions but continued to do dismally in the Kashmir Valley, where it failed to win a single seat.
The performance was repeated in the December 2014 assembly election when the party won seats in Jammu but was unable to open account in the valley.
The BJP hopes to play a decisive role in assembly polls that are due over the next two years in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and the north-eastern states.
States are given priority status if LPG connections are less than the national average of 61% of households. Geographically and economically challenged states received priority on account of limited access to liquified petroleum gas, or cooking gas.
In terms of the cost of execution, MGNREGA comes ahead of Ujjwala. Giving clean cooking fuel—once considered a privilege of the middle class—to the poor has a budget of Rs8,000 crore for three years to cover 50 million women, while the rural jobs scheme that promises 100 days of work in a year to every individual who wants work has Rs38,500 crore earmarked for 2016-17. Both the schemes target the underprivileged in rural areas.