Critics of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) have pointed to the poor refill rates of PMUY beneficiaries to question its utility. While refill rates must increase to achieve the vision of a smokeless kitchen, the situation is both more complex and more optimistic than many give credit to.
Numerous studies have reported that although the poor people aspired to have liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections, the biggest barrier to LPG adoption was the high upfront cost (about Rs 4,000) associated with a new LPG connection. PMUY was specifically designed to make the cost associated with a new LPG connection affordable even for the poorest of the poor. The scheme reduced the upfront cost for a new single bottle connection to Rs 3,300 (by compressing various costs and by negotiating a special price for the LPG stove with the suppliers) and by proposing to bear Rs 1,600 of the reduced cost from the fiscal budget. For the balance amount, in case a prospective beneficiary expressed her inability to pay upfront, the oil marketing companies (OMCs) offered a loan facility. As a result, within 26 months since its launch, more than 4.5 crore poor women now have LPG stoves in their kitchen.
Of course, access by itself does not automatically translate into usage, especially for PMUY beneficiaries who are overwhelmingly rural poor. Overall low cash income makes it less enticing for a poor family to move away from free fuel to commercial fuel—LPG is an additional expense in an already tight family budget. The reality is that PMUY beneficiaries have other priorities (for example, saving for emergencies) and different aspirations (for instance, sending children to private, English-medium schools) that can take precedence over their desire for a quick, convenient and smokeless cooking fuel.