A fortnight after reducing cooking gas prices by ₹200 per cylinder for 330 million customers ahead of critical elections, the government has launched the third phase of its popular Ujjwala scheme. This phase aims to provide free gas connections, including a stove and a refill, to 7.5 million economically disadvantaged households for three years, expanding the scheme’s total coverage to 103.5 million households.

While briefing the media about Cabinet decisions led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur announced the government’s approval to extend the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) until March 31, 2026. This extension will offer 7.5 million free liquefied petroleum gas (cooking gas) connections. Under this initiative, beneficiaries will receive a gas connection without a deposit, which includes a stove and the first 14.2kg cylinder at no cost. The cost of one such connection, amounting to ₹2,200, will initially be covered by state-run oil marketing companies, with reimbursement from the government later on. According to Thakur, the estimated cost of the scheme is ₹1,650 crore.

Thakur mentioned that the scheme’s extension will also encompass eligible households that lack LPG connections for various reasons, such as the formation of new nuclear families.

Experts believe that this move will certainly benefit the ruling BJP in upcoming state assembly elections and the general election in 2024. Keshav Mishra, a professor at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), emphasized that the upliftment of the underprivileged is a fundamental purpose of any democracy, and elections can expedite this process. He distinguished this scheme from other freebies or incentives, describing it as well-conceived, targeted, and having benefited 96 million impoverished families so far. He noted that this distinction sets it apart from untargeted freebies offered by some parties solely to secure electoral victories.

Official data indicates that the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY or Ujjwala 1.0) was launched by PM Modi in May 2016 to provide clean cooking fuel to around 80 million disadvantaged households nationwide. This target was achieved by September 2019. Subsequently, PMUY phase-2 (or Ujjwala 2.0) was initiated in August 2021 with an initial target of 10 million connections, which was achieved by January 2022. The government later extended Ujjwala 2.0 by providing an additional 6 million connections until December 2022. The third phase of the scheme has now been announced.

Last month, on August 29th, the Cabinet announced a reduction in the price of cooking gas by ₹200 per 14.2kg cylinder for all 330 million users to alleviate financial burdens on households affected by rising retail inflation. This move, which made LPG cylinders cheaper by ₹400 per refill for 96 million Ujjwala beneficiaries, is expected to have a positive impact on lowering inflation in September, according to experts.

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