There is many a slip between a policy pronouncement and its rollout on the ground. Illustrative of this maxim is the much-hyped Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) scheme launched in May 2016 that promised to provide free cooking gas connections to 80 million poor families. The good news is that the programme achieved this impressive target on paper this September — well ahead of its end-of-this-fiscal schedule. The bad news is that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG’s) report on PMUY points out major flaws in the implementation of the scheme which has already led to diversion of subsidies meant for beneficiaries and the mass diversion of LPG cylinders for commercial use and sale in the black market.
The CAG report tabled in Parliament on December 11 shows the dark side of a scheme that was meant to light up the kitchens of BPL families with clean fuel. Thus, the audit revealed that in 3.44 lakh instances Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation issued two to 20 refills in a single day to beneficiaries “having a single cylinder connection.” Similarly, 13.96 lakh beneficiaries consumed three to 41 refills in a month.
The CAG report concluded that such high consumption by the poor was improbable and clearly points to diversion of subsidised LPG cylinders for commercial use.
As if that was not enough, a diversion of PMUY subsidies was also noticed. While the government has consistently reiterated that is has a secure Aadhaar linked system to facilitate payment of subsidies, the CAG report indicates otherwise. A test check of 164 LPG distributors by the auditors threw up several instances where subsidies meant for those enrolled under the PMUY scheme were being siphoned “thereby depriving the genuine beneficiaries of their subsidy.”
Clearly, the government needs to correct several serious lapses in an otherwise beneficial scheme before it can trumpet it as an achievement. Here’s hoping the auditors have a more creditworthy assessment of the programme in their next report.