New Delhi: Holding that the announcement on implementation of the Direct Cash Transfer scheme during the poll process was "avoidable", the Election Commission on Tuesday directed the government to keep in abeyance its implementation in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The three-member Commission, which considered the government`s reply to its query on the issue, expressed concern over the announcement on the Aadhar-based scheme and expected the government to avoid doing so during the operation of model code of conduct.
"Taking into consideration the chronology of milestones of the scheme, 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 EC order said after the meeting chaired by CEC VS Sampath.
"The Commission further directs that all follow up and consequential steps towards the implementation of the scheme in respect of the four districts in the State of Gujarat and the two districts in the State of Himachal Pradesh, which are proposed to be covered in the first phase of implementation of the scheme, shall be kept in abeyance till completion of the election process in these two States," the order said.
While considering the government`s response to its query on the issue, the Commission said, "It is silent with regard to the justification sought by the Commission as to the necessity of announcement of the scheme at this juncture, when the Model Code of Conduct is in operation in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh."
Last week, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had announced
that payouts towards pensions and scholarships will be directly transferred to bank accounts of beneficiaries in 51 districts spread over 15 states from January 1. This included four districts in Gujarat and two in Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP petitioned the Election Commission against the government saying this was an attempt to influence voters in the two states. It demanded setting aside of the scheme.
Sampath said the Commission after considering the reply of the government felt "the announcement was avoidable during the current poll process" and has expressed its "concerns" over it.
The Commission, in its letter to the Cabinet Secretary, said that its consistent approach and policy has been not to go into the merits of the policy decisions taken by the government.
It said its concern is only to see whether any such policy decision or announcement impacts the election in progress and whether it will disturb the level-playing field among political parties and candidates in the election fray.
"In the instant case also, the Commission`s concern is limited to the above issue," the EC said.
While taking its decision, the Commission considered the reply furnished by Secretary to Government of India, Planning Commission, wherein details of the scheme of Aadhar-based direct cash transfer were furnished. The Commission has also taken note of the statement made by the Finance Minister in his budget speech in March 2012.
The government told the Commission that it has already
put on hold the preparatory work for implementation of cash transfer scheme till election process is over in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The reason for deferring is that the government machinery is tied up with the election process, the sources said, insisting that it was not done at the behest of EC.
The Commission had conveyed its unhappiness to the Centre over the announcement of the scheme when the model code is in force and had sought a report on it from the Cabinet Secretary in a strongly-worded communication.
In its reply, the government yesterday justified the announcement of its scheme, saying it does not constitute violation of the model code and does not contain anything new that was not in this year`s budget.
The government said no announcement of any financial grant or a new promise in the nature of a financial benefit has been announced after the coming into force of the model code and that no eligible beneficiary will receive any additional entitlement than he/she was already entitled to under identified schemes.