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Food for thought
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EDITORIAL

Food for thought

There has been a revolution of sorts in the use of clean domestic cooking fuel across the country, thanks to the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). In over two years since its rollout in May 2016, the number of free LPG connections has crossed 4.7 crore in 715 districts. In Assam too, the scheme is being implemented to benefit 6 lakh targeted BPL families. But there have been complaints from beneficiaries and activist forums that this welfare scheme too has been hijacked in the State by corrupt officials. They allege that poor beneficiaries are being made to cough up bribes from Rs 800 to Rs 2,000, even though the installation of LPG cylinder and burner should be free of cost. Some gas agencies are reportedly claiming that subsidies provided by Central and State governments do not actually cover the entire cost of around Rs 3,200, particularly the cost of refills, so the ‘shortfall’ has to be collected from beneficiaries. All such complaints pouring in from different districts should be taken seriously by Dispur, for these are giving the State a bad name. The Central government has already announced it will expand PMUY to cover total 8 crore poor families, and its success could well be used as a poll plank in next year’s general election. Well meaning Central schemes are always prone to leakage, but Assam’s record has been consistently dismal. Take Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), the scheme for free housing units to the rural poor. Beneficiary selection was made on political lines, there were bogus beneficiaries galore for siphoning off funds, and finally beneficiaries had to pay around Rs 15,000 or more as bribe to panchayat members and housing officials. The present State government had to tighten up the scheme — rechristened Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana (PMGAY) — by getting beneficiaries selected as per socio-economic census of 2011, using a system of transferring money to beneficiary’s bank account in installments and sending SMSes to their mobile phones, demanding photographic proof of completion of stages in building the house, and setting up helplines to receive complaints about irregularities. A similar tough and thorough approach is needed to check leakages in the Ujjwala scheme too. It is unacceptable in a government’s record that the poor have to keep on hankering for years for a roof to stay under and clean fuel to cook their food.

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Sentinel Group