Millions of women face health risks due to cuts to PM Modi’s fuel plan

NEW DELHI: Five years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offered women a chance to dramatically improve their lives through subsidies for cooking fuel in what has become one of the most famous campaigns of its administration.
Now crippled by a growing budget deficit, New Delhi has slowly reduced the size of these documents – a change that risks upsetting female voters and potentially exposing millions of people to higher pollution levels.
In Allauddinnagar, a village in Uttar Pradesh, Laxmi Kishore, a 35-year-old housewife, is worried.
Cooking food for her family was an ordeal that involved using cheap fuels like cow dung, crops and wood, which burned with a flame of soot and left her with tears in her eyes and suffocated her.
When Modi’s program made liquefied petroleum gas cylinders affordable for her a few years ago, she was breathing more easily.
Now Kishore is preparing to return to her mud stove and the smoother fuels her ancestors used because the grant that landed in her account every time she refilled a bottle has stopped coming. Her husband lost his job as a cashier at a highway restaurant during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, making a cooking cylinder unaffordable for them without the document.
“I dread a return to my previous pain,” she said. “It will mean less sleep and suffering in the smoke again.”
Provisions for LPG cooking fuel subsidies were cut in half in the federal budget for the fiscal year ending March 2022 to Rs 12,480 crore ($ 1.7 billion) from Rs 25,500 crore a year earlier. A spokesperson for the Petroleum Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The government continues to modulate the “effective price” of subsidized domestic LPG, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in a written response to questions from Parliament.
“The subsidy on the product increases / decreases with the increase / decrease in the price of the product in the international market and the government’s decision on the subsidy,” he added.
The program launched in 2016 by the Modi government offered cash rebates for the purchase of an LPG connection and a loan for the first can of fuel and stove.
More than 80 million women from extremely poor households had received such LPG connections as of January 1 of this year.
The government announced plans in the Union’s latest budget to extend benefits to an additional 10 million households, mostly located in remote forests and hilly areas.
To help the poor struggling with blockages, the government also offered free three-cylinder LPG refills last year. LPG consumption in 2020 exceeded gasoline for the first time in a calendar year, according to government data.
But the free supplies were a one-time gesture, and the CFO of Indian Oil Corp, the world’s largest bottle retailer, said last month that the government last year stopped subsidizing fuel for consumers except in those areas. most remote areas.
Meanwhile, LPG prices have increased across the country. Cost of a type LPG cylinder sold by Indian Oil in Delhi rose 40% since November to Rs 819. Some opposition parties are focusing on the issue of high LPG prices for regional elections against BJP.
“You know the time is up for @narendramodi ji and @ BJP4India when the backbone of our society – WOMEN – takes to the streets to protest the rising prices of basic necessities like LPG,” said All India Trinamool Congress in a tweet.

Providing cooking gas was one of the biggest successes of Modi’s flagship welfare programs, which also included building toilets and houses for the poor.
“The elephant in the room is rising prices,” said Arati Jerath, author and policy analyst based in New Delhi.
“The GPL program started off as a very popular program, but ran out of steam due to the increase in prices. Modi will have to come up with a new emotional question as the government runs out of money to engage in populist measures. ”
LPG is crucial for reducing domestic pollution in India. The country has the highest cases of premature deaths in the world from emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, including coal and petroleum products, according to research conducted by Harvard University in collaboration with other academic institutions .
“The withdrawal of subsidies and the increase in prices are likely to affect the consumption of LPG, especially in rural areas where alternatives such as firewood, agricultural residues, dung cakes are readily available”, According to Ashok Sreenivas, senior researcher at Prayas, an advocacy group is working in the area of ​​energy policy.
An increase in the use of alternative solid fuels will “have a definite impact on the health” of women and children in rural areas, as these release particles that can cause diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. even strokes, he said.
India faces issues other than price in getting the poorest populations to switch to cleaner fuel. Availability is also an issue in remote, hard-to-reach areas, Prayas said in a December report.
The Petroleum Ministry said beneficiaries of the program received fewer than two of the three free top-ups offered over nine months last year.
Indoor air pollution, mainly from the burning of solid fuels like wood, dried manure and biomass, contributed to more than one million deaths in 2010, making it the second health risk factor in India, according to a 2015 report by the Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Problems.
The International Energy Agency, in a special report last month, said that despite the recent success of expanding LPG coverage in rural areas, 660 million Indians have not completely switched to fuels. modern and clean cooking facilities. Higher costs and fewer subsidies could make it more difficult to attract new users.
Vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions and other factors have already made India home to 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.
The task of encouraging the poor to use cleaner fuel becomes even more difficult, with millions of people losing their jobs during the pandemic.
Poor households are more sensitive to rising fuel prices because they can easily switch to cheaper alternatives for which they only have to pay pennies each day, rather than spending up to $ 11 per cylinder up front. .
“The prices are going up and the government has stopped compensating us,” said Kaushal Kishore, Laxmi’s husband. “I can’t afford LPG anymore and this is my last bottle until I get a job.”

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