Ujjwala 2.0: Most migrant workers in Chennai not even aware of scheme

While the Ujjwala 2.0 is meant for the welfare of the migrant population, the scheme has hardly benefited them in Chennai.

In August 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a renewed version of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), through which migrants could avail of a cooking gas connection with just a self-declaration as proof of address. Through this scheme, christened  Ujjwala 2.0, the beneficiaries could get a gas connection, the first gas cylinder worth over Rs 800 and a stove, for free.

It was touted as a thoughtful welfare scheme that helped migrant workers avail themselves of a gas connection without the necessary documentation such as caste certificates and ration cards. 

Three years later, this scheme remains an unfulfilled promise, as a reality check on the ground indicates that most migrant workers in Chennai are not even aware of this government initiative.

Struggles of acquiring an LPG connection

James Mundu, a native of Jharkhand, who is working at Marai Malai Nagar in South Chennai, purchased a gas cylinder in 2022 from the black market. “I bought a 14-kg cylinder without a gas connection for Rs 5,000. As I have no address proof for Chennai, I had to pay six times the original price of the cylinder,” James Mundu said. 

 Read more: Cost concerns limit impact of PM Ujjwala Yojana among poor in cities

Had his wife been a beneficiary of the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme, their family could have received a cylinder and a gas connection for free, thus saving Rs 5,000 — the money that gets them vegetables for two whole months. 

James Mundu lives in an asbestos sheet house, with his wife and brother-in-law and earns around Rs 15,000 a month. “We had to compromise on many things to save that money,” said James, who has no clue about the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme. Around six migrant workers and five activists we reached out to, who are working for the welfare of the fraternity are unaware of the scheme. 

About the ambitious scheme

Ujjwala 2.0 is an extension of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a flagship scheme launched in 2016 to distribute free LPG connections to women belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. In addition to allocating 1.6 crore LPG connections, Ujjwala 2.0 extended eligibility for a free cooking gas connection to migrant households. Typically, these households are required to pay a deposit of Rs 2,450 for the connection.

While the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas claims that it has distributed 10.33 crore LPG connections across India under the scheme and 2.34 crore gas connections to migrants through Ujjwala 2.0 as of May 30, 2024, the impact of the scheme is not seemingly visible on the ground.

According to media reports quoting industry sources, the migrant population in Tamil Nadu have benefited greatly from the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme. Official data from the PMUY website says that about 8.65 crore LPG connections have been released since the renewed scheme’s launch, in Tamil Nadu. Surprisingly, the number of migrant beneficiaries in the Chennai district is only 4113. Considering Chennai has a sizeable population of migrants, the numbers just don’t add up.             

‘No enquiries received’

This writer reached out to three Indane gas agencies and one HP gas agency in Chennai to inquire whether they offered free gas connections to migrant workers. These agencies are situated in Medavakkam, Purusawakkam, Thiruvanmiyur, and Chintadripet. However, not only did these gas agencies fail to provide connections, but they also reported receiving no inquiries from migrant workers about the scheme.

The HP gas agency employee at Medavakkam said that HP has not been processing Ujjwala 2.0 for the past three years. 

An Indane gas agency employee from Thiruvanmiyur said they received at least 20 enquiries from the Chennai-based BPL families but none from migrants. “After the Prime Minister’s announcement, we received information from Indian Oil Corporation Limited about the extension of the scheme to migrant workers. But we have not processed any requests from migrant families in the past three years,” said I Lavanya, Manager, Lord Balaji Gas Agencies, Thiruvanmiyur. 

None of these agencies organised awareness programmes on Ujjwala 2.0 for migrant workers. They had, however, organised camps to disseminate information on the PMUY scheme to the BPL families in the city.  

Citizen Matters contacted Kumar Jayant, Additional Chief Secretary of the Department of Labour and Skill Development, Govt of Tamil Nadu, who stated that the scheme is directly managed by Central PSUs/oil companies and advised contacting them directly.

The helpline dedicated to this scheme is non-functional as all attempts to reach the listed number (18002666696) for Ujjwala 2.0 were unsuccessful in connecting to a customer care executive. When we contacted staff at the office of Kushagra Mittal, Deputy Secretary for gas agency/LPG, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, they mentioned that “the secretary is not authorised to speak to the media due to ongoing elections.”

LPG a necessity for the migrant population

ujjwala 2.0 migrant
The gas cylinder proves invaluable for migrant workers in cutting down meal expenses. Pic: Thamizhpparithi Maari-CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

With the growth of infrastructure projects in Chennai, a rapidly developing metropolitan city, there is a high influx of migrants entering the construction industry and settling in slums, in and around the city, a study on migrant workers in Chennai says.  

Migrant workers in informal sectors earn modest incomes and diligently save whatever they can, often sending a portion home to support their families.

Ajay Panna (27) could purchase a gas cylinder by paying Rs 3,000 to his house owner. A native of Assam’s Tinsukia district, he has been living in Chennai for over a year now. “My house owner used his proof of address and charged me almost four times more than the actual cost, to get me a LPG cylinder,” said Ajay. 

Before acquiring a gas cylinder, Ajay’s family depended on an induction stove for cooking, which offered limited cooking options and necessitated the use of only stainless-steel pots.

Read more: The cost of high LPG prices: Environmental and health hazards in slums

The gas cylinder proves invaluable for migrant workers in cutting down meal expenses, as otherwise, they resort to eating out. “We don’t find satisfaction in eating out because we are always conscious of the cost,” James explained. “We prefer cooking at home, where we can prepare our own cuisine and enjoy our meals without reservation.”

No social security benefits for migrant workers

According to a study called The Life and Times of Migrants in Chennai, migrants choose to work in the construction, manufacturing and service industries of the city for better earnings and to come out of indebtedness. The 2013-study states that the majority of migrants in the construction sector (page 53) do not get social security benefits such as Employment Provident Fund (EPF), giving all the more reason why they should have free gas connections. “Only 1.2% of them get a food subsidy in canteens,” the study stated. 

Considering the shortcomings, Ujjwala 2.0 could have made an impact among the migrants. Anima Kanbulna, a 34-year-old native of West Bengal, who has been living in Chennai’s Ambattur says, “Forget maternity leaves, we are paid less and are expected to work overtime. We literally starve ourselves to save money.” 

Anima had to purchase a gas cylinder for Rs 3,000 in the black market. If there is something that connects Anima, Ajay and James, it is the fact that they are oblivious of the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme. “Had I not spent that money on a cylinder, I could have used it to buy some clothes for my newborn,” Anima said. 

What’s the way ahead?

Analysing the reasons behind the limited coverage of the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme may help come up with solutions. Dr Bernard D’Sami, senior research fellow, Loyola Institute of Social Science Training and Research, (LISSTAR) Chennai, who has been studying migrant workers for the past fifteen years, opined that the scheme should be promoted by other line departments at the state and city level.

“Line departments of the union and state governments through social welfare, home, housing and urban affairs should have made this program known to the interstate migrants,” Dr Bernard D’Sami said. 

While the single male migrants often live in groups and use kerosene stoves for cooking, there is a great need for gas connections for migrant families. “Schemes such as these should be communicated in their own language,” Dr Bernard D’Sami said. 

Researchers who studied the Ujjwala scheme said that the beneficiaries often struggle to afford refilling the cylinders after availing them for free. “This along with unreliable supply in rural areas has slowed down the widespread uptake. The strategy will have to be reinvented,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), adding that poor access to information could have been one of the reasons why migrants could not benefit from Ujjwala 2.0.

“We have to get to the level to bring in behavioural change among the beneficiaries and also promote decentralised renewable energy schemes for promoting induction cooking. We need to build awareness around it,” she added.

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