It was during a meeting of customers who bought liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders in Cuffe Parade in 2014 that Geeta Lulla resolved to forgo her LPG subsidy. “I had voluntarily given up my LPG subsidy as I was convinced, that by doing someone who really needed it could avail of it. It was a small contribution from me for the community,” 63-year-old Lulla had written to her Territory LPG Manager after that meeting, eight months ago.
The Lulla family, and other residents of Colaba and Cuffe Parade were asked to give up their subsidy in one of the tri-annual consumer meetings where representatives of the gas company speak to consumers about LPG, saving fuel and Aadhaar card policies.
The family had given up their subsidy long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to bankers and industrialists in Mumbai on April 2, and requested that their employees join the campaign. According to Modi, as many as 2.8 lakh people had responded positively to the government’s “give it up” campaign, resulting in savings of Rs 100 crore.
Lulla lives in a four-bedroom, breezy, sea-facing apartment in Maker Towers in Cuffe Parade, along with her 41-year-old daughter Shonal, 12-year-old granddaughter Ananya, a 4-year-old dog and two maids, Maxima and Veronica Minz. Lulla’s husband was the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Cipla before he died in 2011. Shonal runs an ayurvedic medicines and cosmetics business, and exports products all over the globe.
The family’s three home-cooked meals a day comprise 18 chapatis, non-vegetarian food on alternate days, regular curry and vegetables for lunch everyday. They normally eat South Indian dishes for breakfast.
Before letting go of their subsidy, their annual consumption of LPG cylinders ranged between 10 and 11. Now that they been paying the MRP, the family has so far purchased six cylinders. “We spend Rs 1000 when we go out for dinner, so giving up a subsidy of Rs 164 per cylinder is something we can do without,” Lulla said.
Lulla added that at the last meeting, the gas company’s territory manager had spoken about giving up his own subsidy because he did not require it. Four residents then followed his lead. “We were initially hesitant as we were unsure whether the money we let go would really reach those who needed it,” she said. To give up their subsidies, Lulla and her fellow residents, all registered users, had to give in their names, customer numbers and phone numbers, and were paying the MRP for their next cylinder.
Lulla added that meetings held by gas suppliers were essential to enable well-off families to waive off their subsidies. “This kind of education is needed even in upper-middle class and richer sections of the society as most of them leave their kitchen to their maids, who could be very careless about how much gas they use,” she said.
The Lullas’ distributor, Rashida Amir, meanwhile, is unhappy with the response received to appeals to give up the subsidy. Amir has a customer base of around 14,000, of which, 9,000 avail the subsidy. Flipping through a thin file filled with the ‘Mandate For Opting Out Of Subsidy And PAHAL (DBTL) Scheme’ forms, Amir says, “It is increasing at a very slow pace. The file is too thin for the locality I am in-charge of.”
She added, “I have customers who drive one car in the morning and another in the evening complaining that they should be entitled to those subsidies because they pay higher taxes. Families earning between Rs 5 and 6 lakh should be giving it up.”
There is a second category of customers who have given up their subsidy after Modi’s appeal.
Amir says she has tried to convince customers to use non-subsidised 19 kg commercial cylinders, which cost Rs 1,800, for festivals and marriages. Amir recalls a recent instance when one of her customers had insisted on using the subsidised domestic gas cylinder for a marriage. “These cylinders would run out over the course of a four-day wedding. People do not mind spending a fortune elsewhere, but they want to save up in the kitchen.”