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Posted on Nov 27, 09:39PM | IANS
Gearing up for the next general elections, scheduled in 2014, the Congress Tuesday termed its big-ticket plan to directly transfer cash to various social welfare beneficiaries as "game-changer" and "politically revolutionary" step for UPA-II.
"It will be a game changer," Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said at a press conference at the Congress headquarters here.
"It is a politically revolutionary step. It was a promise we made in the 2009 manifesto," added Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who accompanied Chidambaram.
On Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced direct cash payout of social sector benefits and subsidies to the beneficiaries from Jan 1, 2013, in 51 districts across 14 states. The scheme would be rolled out all over the country by 2013-end - just months ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The significance of the move for the Congress can be gauged from the fact that the party's de facto number 2 Rahul Gandhi, who now heads the its poll coordination panel, would address a meeting of the Congress committees of the 51 districts where the scheme will begin.
Chidambaram denied the move was politically motivated.
"It has nothing to do with elections," he said, adding the move would help plug leakages and duplication in implementation of social sector schemes and result in savings for the government.
He rubbished the opposition's charge of the cash transfers being an attempt to bribe the voters. "It is absurd," Chidambaram said, reacting to the opposition remark.
Ramesh described the policy initiative as "aap ka paisa, aap ke haath", aimed at ensuring the right of the poor was delivered to them at their door-step.
The cash amount would be transferred to the beneficiaries' bank accounts linked to their Aadhaar cards.
The poor in the villages, who would not be able to go to a bank branch, would be able to get cash through an expanded network of banking correspondents, said Ramesh.
Chidambaram said the government would start with scholarships and old-age pension schemes and cover other welfare plans including various subsidies.
However, he clarified that "complex" issues like food, fertiliser and cooking gas cylinder subsidies would be taken up later only when the government is more confident and the bottlenecks in the implementation of food and fertiliser subsidies are addressed.
"We are prudent, we don't want to stumble and fall," he said.
The scheme is expected to cut down leakages and corruption in the implementation of various social sector schemes and distribution of subsidised items.
The cash transfers scheme is expected to reap rich electoral dividends in the same manner the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) worked for the UPA-I.
"MGNREGS brought lasting benefit to millions and cash transfers will bring lasting benefit to millions," said Chidambaram.