One of the most successful flagship schemes launched in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first term was the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), which was launched in May 2016 and aimed at providing clean fuel to all households in the country. The initial target was to give 5 crore free LPG connections by March 2019 but the Interim Budget in February revealed that over 6 crore connections had already been delivered.
Given this track record, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman may reportedly propose to complete the reset target of 8 crore LPG connections in the first 100 days of the government. In addition, another 1-2 crore new connections would be given in the subsequent months to cover all poor households.
FULL COVERAGE: Union Budget 2019
The buzz is that the upcoming Budget may allocate an additional Rs 2,000-3,000 crore for the Ujjwala scheme to complete the coverage of 100 per cent households from about 93-94 per cent at present. While Rs 8,000 crore was allocated to this scheme to start with, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had earmarked an additional Rs 4,800 crore for it in Budget 2018.
As India is staring at a major water crises, Sitharaman's maiden budget is also expected to focus on 'jal' or water. Niti Aayog, in a recent report, had said 21 cities of India, including Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020. The report said 40 per cent of the country's population will have no access to the potent water by 2040.
The Modi 2.0 government's flagship Nal se Jal scheme is also a step in this direction. The scheme aims to provide piped water supply for every household by 2024. The scheme comes under the ambit of the newly created Jal Shakti Ministry, which has merged the ministries of water resources, river development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat took charge of this new ministry on May 31.
The Jal Shakti Ministry has been set up at a time when a heat wave is currently sweeping north India and the delayed monsoon has delivered lower-than normal rainfall since the start of the season on June 1. The future looks far more dire. By 2020, India will be formally categorised as a "water stressed" country, one where per capita availability of water is less than 1,000 cubic metres or less. A June 2018 Niti Ayog report grimly forecasts water demand will be twice the present supply and India could lose up to 6 per cent of its GDP.
So the new ministry - which also take on issues ranging from the byzantine Namami Gange project and the controversial river linkage programme to the national mission on irrigation for providing water to every field - has its work cut out. Its success will depend on the kind of budgetary support it gets on July 5.
Earlier this month, Shekhawat went a step further and announced that the Centre has set a target of providing clean drinking water to all by 2024 and is currently formulating a plan to make this possible. "There are nearly 14 crore households where clean drinking water is yet to reach," he said, adding that in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, the coverage of clean drinking water is less than 5 per cent. The minister, however, did not respond to the question on when the project will be formally launched. Perhaps the honour has been reserved for the country's first full-time female finance minister.
With agency inputs