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Cong, BJD stir cash scheme pot

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 2: The Centre’s decision not to include rice and fertilisers under the direct cash transfer scheme has pleased the state government, but not state Congress leaders.

Congress leaders here had hoped that inclusion of rice in the cash transfer scheme would deprive Naveen Patnaik government of the publicity it has been garnering by providing rice to people at Rs 2 a kg. On the fertiliser front, Congress leaders have been criticising state government for not being able to distribute fertiliser provided by the Centre to the people.

“Naveen Patnaik is playing politics with poverty. But the Centre is trying to bring transparency in all schemes with an aim to benefit people from all welfare programmes,” senior Congress leader Narasingh Mishra said.

However, his disappointment at the non-inclusion of rice in the cash transfer scheme was obvious. “If it introduces the rice scheme, it will take steam out of Naveen Patnaik’s cheap rice campaign,” he said, adding that rice would be brought within the cash transfer ambit from July.

Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik said: “It would have been better if the Centre had included the rice scheme under the cash transfer scheme. The state government has almost hijacked the Centre’s programme.”

He said the state government was trying to take credit for these schemes by creating an impression as if they were its own. “In the rice scheme, the Centre is giving Rs 15 a kg as subsidy,” he said.

Significantly, not a single district of Odisha will be covered under the direct cash transfer scheme, scheduled to be launched on January 1.

Finance secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra said: “The Centre has included 29 welfare programmes — largely related to scholarships and pensions — for the old and the disabled. Under the pubic distribution system, kerosene and LPG has been included.”

The money will be transferred through Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts in 51 districts across 16 states. The districts to be covered in the first phase include five each in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, four each in Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand, three each in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tripura, and two each in Haryana, Kerala and Sikkim.

Food and civil supply minister Pratap Keshari Deb said: “It will be difficult for them to include the rice scheme. A number of technicalities are also involved in it.”

Finance minister Prasanna Acharya said: “If the Centre insists on transferring the money under the rice scheme in the absence of proper infrastructure, it will not work.”

On the other hand, finance secretary Mohapatra said: “The Reserve Bank of India is in touch with the government on how to create a business resources person in the banking sector.”

While the Centre gives a subsidy on rice, there is no subsidy on kerosene and fertiliser. It directly gives the subsidised items to the state, which are later distributed to the public.

The Centre gives Rs 32 subsidy per litre of kerosene and between Rs 700 and Rs 900 per 50kg bag of fertilisers.

The Centre provides rice to the state at Rs 5.65 a kg after taking a burden of Rs 16.84 paise on each kg of rice “Our cost comes around Rs 6.40 per kg of rice. For each kg of rice, we take a burden of Rs 4.40,” said food and civil supply minister Deb.

“The Naveen Patnaik government is spending nearly Rs 1,090 crore per annum on the Rs 2 a kg rice scheme. If the Centre withdraws the entire subsidy amount, the state has to shell out a huge money to continue with the scheme. We have not yet calculated, but the state exchequer would not be able to bear the burden,” said a state government official.

Sources said the state government would oppose the cash transfer scheme in the rice scheme on three grounds.

The government contends that if given cash, they could use it for purchases other than buying rice, the state did not have adequate banking infrastructure and everyone did not have a bank account.