The ambitious direct cash transfer scheme, to be launched from January one next year, will cover 29 welfare schemes initially, the government said on Tuesday while describing it as a "game-changer" but dismissing suggestions that the roll-out hinted at mid-term polls.
A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reviewed the progress of the scheme under which beneficiaries would get cash through banks, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said the new flagship programme was a "path breaking reform" aimed at plugging leakages and ensure efficient delivery of benefits.
Chidambaram said about 29 schemes are ready to start from January 1 next year in 51 districts spread across 16 states. The electronic cash transfers will be based on Aadhar (Unique Identification Number) platform. The entire country is targeted to be covered by the end of next year.
Rejecting opposition charge that the scheme amounted to offering bribe to people as there could be mid-term polls, Chidambaram said, "It is an absurd argument. I cannot find a stronger word... People should choose their words carefully. People should hurl their accusations with a sense of responsibility."
Insisting that the programme has "nothing to do with elections", he said, "Elections will come and elections will go. Governments will come and governments will go. Parties will come and parties will go."
He said the scheme will be a "game-changer from the point of view of ordinary citizens of India" and its benefits will be long-lasting."
Ramesh added that it was an election promise of Congress in 2009 which was being fulfilled.
"Congress is a political party, not an NGO. We had promised cash transfer of benefits and subsidies in our election manifesto of 2009," Ramesh said, asking "Where is the talk of elections?"
Ramesh, while addressing the joint press conference with Chidambaram, said the programme was "not transfer of cash but 'haq' (the right) of the people" and coined a slogan "aapka paisa, aapke hath (your money in your hand)."
He said the Congress will soon call a meeting of presidents of its 51 district units to be covered in the first phase which will be addressed by Rahul Gandhi and Chidambaram.
The district presidents would be sensitised about the scheme as will be the District Collectors, Chidambaram said, expressing the hope that those officials would continue to be posted there for at least a year to allow the smooth rollout.
Ramesh conceded that there are "several lacunae" in the system because of which the benefits don't reach the intended people and these are to be addressed through such programmes.
In this context, he referred to the famous comments of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1980s that only 15 paise per rupee reaches the intended beneficiaries because of leakages.
"It is not bribe. It is the 'haq' of people," he said.
Explaining the benefits of the programme which he described as "flagship", Chidambaram said there will be "practically no case of falsification or duplication. No one can falsify. Efficiency gains are incalculable.... This is a game-changer. We think people will appreciate. We look forward to successful launch and roll-out of the scheme."
He said the government expects "considerable savings" from the scheme but refused to speculate the amount. The districts to be covered in the first phase include five each in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, four each in Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand, three each in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tripura, and two each in Haryana, Kerala and Sikkim.