Put on hold DBT for cooking gas and go for complete rethink, says Jayalalithaa

Calling for a complete rethink on the Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG scheme, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said linking cooking gas subsidy to the Aadhaar number without preparing the system adequately will only lead to confusion and inconvenience among the public.

Pending such a rethink, the second phase rollout of the scheme should be put on hold, she said on Sunday in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, details of which were released to the media on Monday. In this phase, the scheme is to be implemented in 235 districts, including 25 in Tamil Nadu, from January 1.

The Chief Minister, who voiced her objections to the scheme in April too, in her letter, also highlighted the need for the States to be consulted before launch of any ambitious scheme if the Centre’s intention is to ensure efficient delivery.

A letter from the Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, earlier this month, giving details of the second-phase implementation came as a shock, she said. “The State government is strongly opposed to the proposed rollout,” Ms. Jayalalithaa said. LPG, an essential commodity, is to be made available to the users in a timely and need-based manner. Replacing the subsidy with a direct cash transfer is not appropriate, she added.

The Petroleum Ministry intends to link DBT of LPG subsidy with Aadhaar number of the cooking gas customers. “This is a proposal fraught with a number of practical difficulties. The pace of assigning Aadhaar numbers is as yet very slow in all States, including Tamil Nadu,” she said.

Confusion prevailing between Union Ministries besides the parallel schemes of the National Population Register (NPR) and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in different States were reasons for the slow progress.

In Tamil Nadu, NPR-based registration was being implemented through the Census Commissionerate, a Central government agency. The work was proceeding quite slowly due to a number of difficulties with the agency and not with the State machinery. Even after NPR registration, there was considerable delay in the issue of the Aadhaar number due to co-ordination issues with the UIDAI. Aadhaar numbers have been issued only to 2.52 crore of the 6.74 crore eligible persons in Tamil Nadu, the Chief Minister said.

The DBT for LPG scheme may also not stand legal scrutiny in the backdrop of a recent Supreme Court judgment that said government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory for rendering any services. But, under the Ministry proposal after the grace period of three months no person who is not an Aadhaar enrollee can receive the LPG subsidy.

Pointing that direct cash transfer through banks was already adopted by the State for various schemes, she said the full rollout was not possible as the banks were not in a position to deliver the desired level of service at the doorstep of the beneficiaries.

According to Ms. Jayalalithaa, the Central allotment of kerosene to Tamil Nadu had been arbitrarily reduced by more than 50 per cent. If people were also deprived of access to LPG, many households, particularly those in rural and semi-urban areas, will look for alternatives like felling trees or use electricity accentuating the energy deficit.

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