Welfare war

Print edition : April 13, 2018

ON February 20, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah launched the Mukhya Mantri Anila Bhagya Yojane (MMABY) at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru. The scheme seeks to provide free liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connection with a regulator, a hose pipe, a twin-burner gas stove and two refills to each beneficiary identified by the Food, Labour and Social Welfare Departments in the State who have not been using LPG as cooking fuel. While the government press release states that 30 lakh beneficiaries have been identified, the website of the Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department lists 27,59,998 beneficiaries as on February 19.

Considering that the term of the current State legislature ends on May 28 and election dates are slated to be announced soon, this scheme is significant as it is one of the last social welfare schemes to be launched by the Siddaramaiah government. Interestingly, while advertisements by the State government regarding the MMABY mentioned that the scheme was being launched “In collaboration with Govt. of India”, Siddaramaiah took the opportunity to emphasise that it was launched because of the inadequacy of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a Central government scheme launched in May 2016 aimed at providing five crore LPG connections by 2019.

“The PMUY has not even managed to provide 10 lakh gas connections [in Karnataka]. We intend to reach 30 lakh beneficiaries. They only provide the gas connection, we provide not only gas connection but also the regulator, a lighter, a stove and two cylinders. They spend only Rs.1,600 per connection. We are spending Rs.4,254.60 for each beneficiary, that is three times more than what the Centre spends,” Siddaramaiah said at the launch. Later, he presented gas stoves to five women beneficiaries who had come from various villages. Ministers of Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs, Social Welfare, and Labour were present at the event.

A tussle has been going on between the Centre and the State government ever since Karnataka announced its intention to launch the MMABY last year. On the face of it, there should not be any difference as both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Siddaramaiah have stated that the schemes were launched to mitigate the plight of poor women who use firewood, coal or dung cakes to light their stoves.

The Centre should have ideally been supportive of the Karnataka government’s scheme, which aims at filling the gap in terms of beneficiaries of the PMUY. Instead, the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has been at loggerheads with the Karnataka government. Some political observers feel that the Centre is trying to restrict the State government’s welfare image. This assumes importance as the contest in Karnataka is turning out to be a fight between Modi and Siddaramaiah.

In a press release on February 6, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas stated: “This Ministry had advised State government to implement MMABY as a complementary scheme of PMUY and has advised the State government to follow the procedure of implementing the scheme through OMCs [oil marketing companies] only.” It goes on to state that the MMABY “...system may lead to large scale chaos and implementation issues in the field…. It is clarified that the current format of the MMABY not being in line with established procedure and hence it is not having concurrence of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.”

U.T. Khader, Karnataka Minister of Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs, explained how the Central government was dissuading the State from going ahead with the MMABY.

“I had a meeting with Dharmendra Pradhan [Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister] in this regard, who put three conditions. First, you have to put the Central name [PMUY] for your scheme to which we agreed even though it is 100 per cent State’s money. Second, for Ujjwala [PMUY] beneficiaries, you should also give stove and two refills, to which we agreed. The third condition that he put was that we should give all the money to oil marketing companies, to which we did not agree. How can we agree to this condition? If we deposit all the money with them, if they delay, who will get the blame?”

He added: “We wanted to pay the distributors directly but the Ministry was opposed to this. We have gone ahead with this and we will be providing a demand draft to the beneficiary for LPG refills. We will go to the distributor directly. How can they stop us? The PMUY has created imbalance in society as some people have got LPG connections while others have not. The Chief Minister wanted to ensure that there will be social equality with everyone getting a connection.”

Although the State government has set an ambitious target of 30 lakh beneficiaries, it will take some time for this to be realised as the OMCs have stated that only 1.5 lakh new connections can be provided in a month. In the 2018-19 Budget, Siddaramaiah earmarked Rs.1,350 crore for the MMABY. On the other hand, the PMUY has covered 8,61,080 beneficiaries in the State so far, according to its website. With both the Centre and the State government vying for voters’ attention through the cooking gas scheme, it remains to be seen what impact it will have.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

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