India’s election authorities have sought an explanation from the government over its proposal for a nationwide scheme to transfer cash directly to the underprivileged people, replacing the government subsidies on food, fuel and fertilizers.
The Election Commission’s (EC) decision to demand an explanation came after the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had moved the panel asking it to direct the government to withdraw the announcement until the assembly polls were over in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Polling is slated to end Dec. 17 and the votes will be counted three days later.
The government plans to cover the target BPL (Below Poverty Line) families and deposit Rs 3.2 lakh crore ($ 570 billion) per year in the bank accounts of 100 million poor families by 2014. The scheme is supposed to benefit roughly 200 million voters, considering every family on an average has two adult members.
The first phase of the transfers will begin Jan. 1 in 51 districts — four of them are in Gujarat where the ruling BJP is seeking another five-year-term under Chief Minister Narendra Modi — and will start by paying out scholarship grants and pensions. Food and fuel subsidies will be replaced later.
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A high-level BJP delegation, led by senior leader L.K. Advani, submitted a memorandum to the EC, Friday, objecting to the timing of the announcement which, they alleged, violated the election code of conduct.
“It appears to be the sinister intention of the government to use [the scheme] for influencing the voters in Gujarat,” the BJP memorandum said, according to a report in the Hindu. “The Union Ministers themselves are claiming that this decision will be a game-changer. Announcements of game-changer decisions are rarely timed without any expectation of a gain or major fallout.”
“In this instant case, the Union government cannot be unaware of the clear stipulation outlined in Para VII — party in power — (VI) (a) of the model code of conduct during elections, which states that the party in power shall not announce any financial grants in any form or promises thereof.”
In a strongly worded letter to cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, the EC expressed its unhappiness over the timing of the announcement, saying it could have been avoided in view of the Gujarat assembly polls.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari Monday said that the government would provide an explanation to the EC, while taking a dig at the BJP asking why the party was “scared” of cash transfers.
"If the Election Commission has asked the government for a clarification or for some sort of an explanation, I am sure that the appropriate part of the government would provide that information to the Election Commission,” Tiwari said without elaborating on what the explanation was going to be, ANI news agency reported.
Tiwari said former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his budget speech in March “possibly dealt with the entire issue of cash transfers."
“I think there was also some press release by the government on the 28th of September 2012 on the same issue. So, therefore while I am not second guessing what the government would like to tell the Election Commission in this regard, but there seems to be a certain amount of work which has been done in the past," he said.
The government’s proposal is to transfer money directly into the bank accounts of people who are eligible for LPG and kerosene subsidies, pensions, scholarships and payments on employment guarantee scheme as well as benefits under other government welfare programs. This money can then be used to buy goods and services from the market at regular prices.