BJP scrambles to counter Cong cash transfer move
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The BJP, which has opposed the government's reforms in multi-brand retail and insurance and pension funds, discussed the cash transfer scheme at its parliamentary party meeting, with members commending the idea and making suggestions on how to make it work in the long-term.
Some leaders said the NDA government had made similar attempts to directly transferring cash for food subsidies.
The scramble within the main opposition party coincided with what appeared to be the political launch of the ambitious scheme. Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Tuesday shared details of the programme at a press conference at the party headquarters, with Chidambaram stressing that there was no politics behind the programme.
But Ramesh seemed to hint at the programme's political subtext when he coined the slogan, "aapka paisa, aapke haath" (your money in your hands) for the cash transfer scheme.
Ramesh said the programme aimed to fulfill the Congress's promise made in its manifesto ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. "It is not just a government programme, it is a revolutionary political movement," he said.
The government's plan is to transfer the benefits of welfare schemes such as scholarships and old-age pensions directly to the poor through Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts by the end of next year. The government has identified 42 welfare schemes for direct cash transfer of which 29 will be covered in the first phase.
The first phase is to be rolled out from January 1 in 51 districts spread across Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura.
"This is flagship in the sense that it is a game changer. It is a seminal programme like MNREGA, which would bring lasting benefits to millions of people," said Chidambaram. It would end "leakage and rent-seeking anywhere in the system", he added.
Asked about criticism from some opposition parties that the scheme is tantamount to indirectly bribing people, Chidambaram said that was "absurd" because the scheme only aimed to transfer benefits of welfare schemes more efficiently. He also dismissed suggestions about a link between the scheme and talk of possible mid-term elections.
At the BJP meeting, senior leaders such as Venkaiah Naidu, Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha, among others, spoke about the scheme after the issue was raised by MP Uday Singh. BJP parliamentary party chairman L K Advani set up a two-member committee of Yashwant Sinha and Venkaiah Naidu to prepare a "policy paper" for the party on this issue.
"We are supportive of the idea of direct cash transfer. There were some doubts over the intentions and the manner of implementation of the scheme by the government," Sinha told The Indian Express.
Uday Singh urged the party to support the project saying that it was the BJP-led NDA government which had conceived the programme through a national citizens' registry. But he also said that what he saw as the UPA government's hurry to push it through could leave loopholes that can be "detrimental" to the effectiveness of the scheme.
However, members such as Rama Jois and Piyush Goyal said they had reservations about the project being linked to the Aadhaar number. This was supported by a large number of members. "It will be used as a bribe where funds from the national exchequer will be disbursed selectively by selective issue of Aadhaar cards," Jois is learnt to have said.
But the party appeared keen to support the programme and the policy paper is likely to highlight the constraints in rolling out the scheme to ensure that it is implemented without loopholes. "It could be, if the government takes it that way," Sinha replied when asked if his policy paper will make constructive suggestions to the government.
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