New Delhi: Top BJP leaders met the Election Commission today to protest against the Centre's decision to announce direct cash transfers meant to replace subsidies for below-poverty line (BPL) families as well as other beneficiaries. They want the Election Commission to instruct the government to put the decision on hold and introduce it at a more "appropriate time".
The BJP team which included LK Advani as well Leaders of Opposition in Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, told the Election Commission that the timing of the announcement violates the election code of conduct, which is in place in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Four of the 51 districts chosen for the first phase of the roll-out for direct cash transfers fall in Gujarat.
The party's memorandum to the poll panel says that announcement of the scheme "appears to be the sinister intention of the government to use this for influencing the voters of Gujarat". It refers to Union ministers calling the scheme a "game changer" and says "game changer decisions are rarely timed without any expectation of a gain or major fallout".
The BJP had earlier said that it was not against cash transfers to beneficiaries instead of subsidies in kind, like food and fuel. It's objection is to the timing.
The Prime Minister has asked all concerned departments to start the roll-out of cash transfers immediately. The full roll-out will start from January 1 next year and will target a specific set of subsidies. The government expects to cover all subsidies for BPL families by the end of next year.
The direct cash scheme, aimed at plugging leakages and ensure 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.
Finance minister P Chidambaram has already rejected 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."
(With PTI inputs)