PMO pushes cash transfer, BJP cries foul

PMO pushes cash transfer
TOP BJP leaders requested the Election Commission Friday to direct the government to withdraw its direct cash transfer announcement, alleging the move had the "sinister intention" of influencing voters in Gujarat.

The plea from the opposition party came even as the Prime Minister's Office instructed ministries to take up the scheme on priority and ensure "seamless and trouble-free roll-out" for individual beneficiaries.

Principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Pulok Chatterji, told the nine ministries, whose schemes are being covered under the programme, they must ensure they are ready with the full list of beneficiaries in digital form before the roll-out date of January 1, 2013 while bottlenecks such as the banking infrastructure are cleared by the technical committees.

"I would request you to get down to the immediate task of operationalising direct cash transfers in the identified schemes in your department. The emphasis should be on having a seamless and trouble-free roll-out of the programme, first in the 51 districts and subsequently as per the agreed roll-out plan,"Chatterji wrote in his letter. "Concerns relating to availability of banking infrastructure for making this work and the financial and accounting procedures required would be addressed by the financial inclusion and technology committee."

The BJP, however, has taken strong objection to the push saying the move could "well have been made after the completion of the election process in Gujarat" where four districts Mehsana, Valsad, Anand, Bhavnagar will be covered in the first phase of 51 districts.

"But it appears to be the sinister intention of the government to use this for influencing the voters in Gujarat. Consequently, we would urge the commission to take a serious note of this blatant violation of the model code of conduct. We request the commission to direct the government to withdraw the announcement and defer it to an appropriate time after the completion of the election process in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh," said the BJP memorandum to the commission.

"The cash transfer scheme is for the entire country but the two states where elections are being held should have been excluded. If you make an announcement before the elections are due, the party in power at the Centre can benefit," L K Advani said after petitioning the EC.

The government, however, rejected the BJP contention saying it was not a new scheme because the finance minister had announced it during the budget speech this year. "A promise made in the union budget," the PMO tweeted to counter the BJP's allegations.

The government had on November 26 announced that by the end of next year beneficiaries of 42 central government schemes would be given cash instead of the benefits. Setting an ambitious time-line, seen as aimed at the next general elections, the government announced that the programme would be launched in 51 districts from January 1, cover 18 states by April and the entire country by the end of next year.

Doubts have been raised about the feasibility of such an ambitious time-line considering the lack of banking infrastructure in rural areas and Aadhar numbers still to be distributed to all beneficiaries. Chatterji, however, informed the ministries about the tasks assigned to them.

"The main issue which you need to focus on is ensuring that you have a complete list of beneficiaries in digitized form seeded with Aadhaar numbers for your schemes. Digitisation of beneficiaries' database is critical for rolling out direct cash transfers and maximum effort on this needs to be put in at the states and district levels," he said.

Implementation committees in each of the ministries have been directed to meet weekly to supervise progress, a PMO statement said. In a letter to Nandan Nilekani, chairman of UIDAI which is giving Aadhaar numbers, Chatterji has asked for the deputation of dedicated individuals to the nine ministries to help them with technical issues.

Chatterji has also written to the department of financial services, asking its secretary to hold a meeting immediately to monitor the opening of bank accounts by beneficiaries and linking bank accounts with Aadhaar numbers.

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