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PC-Nilekani tango key to trophy scheme

Singh

New Delhi, Nov. 26: The Prime Minister today tied the fate of a potential blockbuster welfare scheme to co-operation between two departments headed by P. Chidambaram and Nandan Nilekani.

Announcing the timeline for the launch of the Direct Cash Transfers (DCT) scheme, Manmohan Singh said: “The twin pillars for the success of this systemů are the Aadhaar platform and financial inclusion.”

The Aadhaar identity card platform is helmed by Infosys co-founder Nilekani while finance minister Chidambaram is expected to oversee the execution of financial inclusion.

The DCT, projected to cost the government in excess of Rs 3 lakh crore, targets those living below the poverty line (BPL) and will deploy technology and modern banking practices to ensure that every paisa invested reaches the “right people”. Many believe DCT will be to UPA II what the national rural job guarantee scheme was to UPA I — a trophy pro-poor scheme.

The UPA will launch the scheme this New Year — 28 years after Rajiv Gandhi said that out of every one rupee the Centre released for the poor, only 17 paise reached them.

Manmohan Singh, in his closing remarks at the first meeting of the national committee on direct transfers, added: “I would expect the finance ministry and the Unique Identification Authority to work in close co-ordination to achieve the collective goal.”

The statement, political sources said, was an acknowledgement of a view that the two departments often didn’t think alike and were tempted to protect or encroach on each other’s turf.

The Prime Minister told Chidambaram that the banking system needed to “integrate the post office network” in rural areas and see that the front-end infrastructure was in place so that people had no problem opening their bank accounts and withdrawing from the cash deposited. “Ideally, the common man should be able to open a simple bank account on demand if they have an Aadhaar number,” Manmohan said.

He directed Nilekani to ensure that the Aadhaar coverage was “adequate as per the rollout plan” and did not exclude anyone.

The Prime Minister said the scheme would come into being from January 2013 in 51 districts in the first phase. Following the rural job guarantee scheme template, the districts were chosen for their “extreme backwardness” and included those in Congress-ruled states like Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha where the party is struggling for survival.

Unveiling the timeline, Manmohan said it would cover 18 states from April and the country by 2013 end — a few months before the scheduled general election.

Explaining why the DCT was central to the UPA’s agenda, Manmohan said: “We have a chance to ensure that every rupee spent by the government is spent truly well and goes to those who truly deserve it.” He described it as a “test of the implementation capacity of our government”.

To the Congress and the Centre, scarred by a series of scandals and a perceived inability to cope with price rise, the DCT launch is in line with the steps Manmohan and Sonia took to snap themselves out of ennui.