Old-age pension at the doorsteps of beneficiaries, student scholarships without middlemen - such benefits would now be available to the 'aam aadmi' directly through the "transparent and efficient system" of "cash transfer", the government announced today.
Addressing the media at the Congress headquarters, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said this was not just a government initiative but the "fulfillment of the Congress party's 2009 election manifesto promise". Admitting food and fertiliser subsidy transfers were "more complex" issues and needed to be discussed before these could be transferred on the Aadhaar platform, Chidambaram said initially, cash transfers would be rolled out across 51 districts on January 1.
By April, these would be extended across the country. The transfer of subsidy on liquefied petroleum gas cylinders is also in the pipeline, and this might be rolled out before the 2014 general elections.
The finance minister said he hoped the direct cash transfer system would be as a "game-changer" for the United Progressive Alliance as the landmark Right to Information and the Right to Education Acts.
Yesterday, at the first meeting of the National Committee on Direct Cash Transfers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cleared the timeline for the implementation of this system through the Aadhaar-based platform.
Stressing the "revolutionary" manner in which it would change people's lives, Chidambaram said, "It would eliminate cases of falsification and duplication and bring in incalculable efficiency gains."
Ramesh said banking correspondents would transfer the money directly from banks to the doorsteps of beneficiaries. These correspondents wouldn't necessarily be appointed by banks; they would also be members of cooperatives, women self-help groups and Anganwadis.
Dismissing charges by the Opposition and Left parties that this exercise was a "bribe", given elections were approaching, Chidambaram said, "These are existing subsidies that are now being transferred inefficiently; we are just moving to a more efficient system." "We have deliberately chosen schemes that are amenable to transfer through bank accounts, such as scholarships and pensions. If Aadhaar penetration is 80 per cent or more, it is a fair assumption the beneficiary penetration of Aadhaar would be about 95 per cent. We hope to be able to do that by December 31. The infrastructure is in place."
The 29 schemes to be roped into the cash transfer ambit include 14 scholarship schemes of the Ministry of Social Justice, six scholarships of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, three from the Ministry of Minority Affairs, two of the women and child development ministry, five from the labour ministry and one from the health ministry.
The Congress is ensuring ahead of the elections in a few states and the 2014 general elections, the party leverages the scheme to the hilt. With this in mind, Pradesh Congress committee chiefs of the 10 states in which the scheme would be implemented would be summoned to the national capital.