India

In Free Cylinders For Poor During Coronavirus Lockdown, A Worrying Glitch

In Free Cylinders For Poor During Coronavirus Lockdown, A Worrying Glitch

At a gas agency queue, owners are having a hard time getting them to follow social distancing

Lucknow:

For the last 15 days, India has been under a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Government of India has announced a slew of measures to help those who live in the country's villages get through this tough period - from free gas to free ration for the poorest. But are these measures working on the ground?

At Itaunja, 30 kms from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, the longest queues are at the local gas cylinder distribution agency. To help the poor during the coronavirus shut down, the Centre has promised three free gas cylinders under the Ujjwala scheme from April. But the implementation seems to be stuck due to glitches.

"The problem is that most of our consumers' mobile number is not active right now," says Arun Awasthi, manager of the distribution agency for Bharat Gas.

When asked why this is a problem, Mr Awasthi says, "We have orders that the consumer has to use their own mobile number for booking the gas cylinder. Earlier, the consumer could book using mobile number or over the counter. Now the consumer has to first activate a number with their account here by filling a form and then book the cylinder," he adds.

A crowd of about 100 people have gathered at the gas agency and the owners are having a hard time getting them to follow social distancing. We ask Mr Awasthi whether all the people visiting his agency at the time are trying to sort out mobile phone issues.

"Yes, all of them are here to change their mobile number. But even then, the gas cylinder is not getting booked. This for instance is Rama Devi's passbook. Now, her mobile number has been updated but one cannot book a gas from her number. I am calling both booking IVRS numbers but cannot get through," the manager says.

In the queue at the gas agency, 21-year-old Himanshu says he has tried booking a cylinder for three days now. "I come here every day. My father said let's go again today. Been standing here for two hours but the call to the gas booking IVRS number is not going through," he says.

We travel farther from Lucknow to the Delhi highway to find a similar situation at a gas agency in Mahona. "Perhaps the government wants to prevent misuse of these free gas cylinders, so this procedure has been put into place. But this has become a big problem... People are crowding my agency with requests for a mobile number change," says a hassled distributor Laxman Prasad.