Expressing unhappiness over the announcement of the much-touted direct cash-transfer scheme by the government even when the model code was in force due to elections in Gujarat, the Election Commission (EC) today wrote to the Cabinet Secretary seeking a report on the matter.
In the letter to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, the EC has conveyed its unhappiness over the timing of the announcement, and said it could have been avoided in view of the Gujarat elections later this month.
“We have asked the cabinet secretary to give us a factual report on the issue by Monday evening and if we do not get a reply we will proceed with action,” a top official of the Commission said. Sources said the EC’s fresh letter to the cabinet secretary was the second reminder in the matter. The Gujarat unit of BJP had on Thursday petitioned the poll body in this case, alleging a serious violation of the model code of conduct.
A day later, top party leaders, led by L K Advani, had personally met the chief election commissioner to complain against the announcement. Incidentally, four of the 51 districts in which the cash-transfer scheme is to be implemented from January 1 next fall in poll-bound Gujarat. The government had in a major announcement here claimed the scheme as a “game-changer”, with Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh personally launching the scheme from the Congress headquarters here.
After complaining to the EC, Advani had said such announcements should not be made by a government once election dates had been declared. “There has been announcement of direct cash transfer... The states where elections are due should have been excluded. They (government) could not have done it under the (election) code of conduct,” Advani had said.
Gujarat goes to the polls on December 13 and December 17, and the model code is in force. The new direct cash scheme, aimed at plugging leakages and ensuring efficient delivery of benefits, will initially cover 29 welfare schemes, mainly related to scholarships but leave out beneficiaries of subsidised food and fertilisers, which involve “complex and difficult” issues.
Chidambaram has already rejected the opposition charge that the scheme amounted to offering bribe to people as there could be mid-term polls, saying, “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.”
He claimed the scheme would be a “game-changer from the point of view of ordinary citizens of India” and its benefits will be long-lasting.
Ramesh had also said it was an election promise of the Congress in 2009 which was being fulfilled. Without going into the merits of the cash-transfer scheme, BJP has said its intention is only to draw the attention of the EC to the timing of the announcement.
“It appears to be the sinister intention of the government to use this for influencing the voters in Gujarat,” the BJP memorandum on cash-transfer scheme had stated.
Referring to the claims of Union ministers that the scheme will be a game-changer, BJP said, “The announcement of game-changer decisions are rarely timed without any expectation of a gain or major fallout.”
BJP said as per the model code, the party in power cannot announce any financial grant in any form or promises thereof and rejected the government's argument.