New Delhi: The Election Commission has said that the Centre could have avoided an announcement of the Direct Cash Transfer scheme while Gujarat was in the midst of polls. The Commission's remarks were in response to a complaint filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the declaration of the scheme violates the model code of conduct, which kicks in as soon as elections are announced and forbids parties and candidates from sharing decisions or policies that could influence voters in their favour.
"The Commission is of the considered opinion that the aforesaid announcement was avoidable during the currency of the election process going by the letter and spirit of the Model Code of Conduct," the Election Commission's order said. Expressing concern over the timing of the announcement, the three-member panel that met under the chairmanship of VS Sampath, directed the government to defer any follow-up action on the scheme till elections were completed in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The Commission has hinted that the announcement violated poll code, though it hasn't said it specifically in its letter to the Government. Significantly, the Commission did not issue a warning or reprimand the government that had sent a written explanation to it yesterday.
The government has reportedly reiterated that the scheme is an old one that was announced months ago when then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented this year's union budget.
"In my view, once they (Election Commission) have come to the conclusion that the announcement could have been avoided, it means they have come to the conclusion that, in some way, this announcement could have influenced polls. In my view, clear case there is a violation," former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami told NDTV.
Gujarat votes on December 13 and 17. The direct cash transfer scheme, a major reform measure, is meant to be implemented from January 1.
Starting with 51 districts, including four in Gujarat, the government plans to replace subsidized items with direct deposits in the bank accounts of beneficiaries, most of them low-income families.
The cash transfers will change the way millions of Indians access entitlement programmes, though for now, the manner in which subsidized food is distributed to families will remain unaffected.
The main advantages in paying cash directly are that corruption can be reduced by removing government middlemen who often demand bribes to dispense subsidized products or services, while the poor can be better targeted.
However, only those with a Unique ID (UID) number and a bank account will be eligible for the cash transfers. Under the Aadhar scheme headed by Infosys' co-founder Nandan Nilekani, every citizen is to be assigned a unique biometric identity number.
The poor banking infrastructure in many rural areas will be a major challenge for the government as it tries to roll out the direct cash transfer scheme.