The BJP on Tuesday rushed to catch up with the government’s proposed direct cash transfer scheme, with most leaders endorsing the plan and even claiming credit for the idea, as the UPA rolled out the programme and called it a “path-breaking reform” measure that would transform the life of ordinary citizens.
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