From loans to refills at doorsteps, Ujjwala scheme may get a facelift

Encouraging the sustained usage of LPG has remained a challenge before oil marketers such as IOC, BPCL, and HPCL, as consumers are reluctant to go for second refills under the scheme.
Soon, consumers might get an option to refill cooking gas cylinders for amounts as small as Rs 50-100 at their doorstep. The option can be exercised after the proposed introduction of mobile liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vans across the country.

This is among a slew of measures to be introduced by oil marketing companies (OMCs) to boost the number of refills under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). Sources say plans are also afoot to extend partial loans to customers for cylinder refills.

Encouraging the sustained usage of LPG has remained a challenge before oil marketers such as Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL), and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL), as consumers are reluctant to go for second refills under the scheme.

According to a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the annual average refill consumption of 19.3 million PMUY consumers (who have completed more than one year) was only 3.66 refills in March 2018. Similar analysis for 31.8 million PMUY beneficiaries revealed that consumption declined to 3.21 refills annually by the end of 2018.

“The focus is on increasing the number of small cylinders to encourage refills. In addition, loans will be extended for second cylinders, too, and refill vans will be launched to reach out to the homes of customers directly,” said an official source.

The source said mobile vans would be introduced, giving priority to safety aspects, too.

The government had faced flak over lower Ujjwala refills, as the average number of refills by normal customer comes to around 7.  

The Ujjwala scheme, under which free cooking gas connections are given to poor families, was instrumental in increasing LPG coverage to 97.4 per cent households from 55 per cent. 

According to the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, of 275.9 million LPG consumers in India, 80.3 million consumers come under the Ujjwala scheme.

“Behavioural change, further strengthening the supply chain, and a shift towards cleaner energy are some of our key priorities. We are looking for innovative ways to increase refills and sustain adoption,” Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said last week, stating “the mission is not yet complete”.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party government took charge for a consecutive time last year, PMUY beneficiaries were given options of 14.2-kg and 5-kg cylinders. Now, existing PMUY beneficiaries are being given the option to go for two 5-kg cylinders instead of a 14.2-kg connection. Audio-visual and SMS campaigns have also been launched to sensitise rural LPG users.

OMCs had also extended unsecured and interest-free loans to PMUY beneficiaries on account of cost of first refill and or cost of gas stove. 

According to the CAG, 68.25 per cent of beneficiaries have availed of loans from OMCs. Till December 2018, of the disbursed loans of Rs 4,192.79 crore, OMCs recovered only Rs 1,575.72 crore.

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