New Delhi: Under fire from the Election Commission on the direct cash transfer issue, government on Monday told the poll body that there was nothing new in the scheme which is part of this year`s budget proposals.
Faced with a 5 pm deadline from the EC for a response, the Planning Commission provided details of the scheme and claimed that nothing new has been announced by the government.
The Plan Panel`s note was preceded by a brief communication to the EC from the Cabinet Secretariat stating that they had referred the matter to the Planning Commission for detailed inputs.
The EC had warned of appropriate action if the government`s reply to its letter did not come by the deadline.
The three-member poll body headed by Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath today discussed the matter but deferred a decision on it.
The EC had yesterday sent a reminder to the Cabinet Secretary expressing its displeasure as the government had failed to reply to the poll body`s notice a day before.
The election body had also conveyed unhappiness to the Centre over the announcement of its direct cash transfer scheme when the model code in poll-bound Gujarat is in force and had sought a report by this evening.
In a strongly-worded letter to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, the EC had expressed its unhappiness over the timing of the announcement by the Government and said it could have been avoided in view of the Gujarat Assembly elections later this month.
Four of the 51 districts in which the cash transfer scheme is to be implemented from January 1 next fall in Gujarat. Gujarat goes to polls on December 13 and 17.
Defending the government`s action, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said it had not violated any election code of conduct in connection with its ambitious direct cash transfer scheme as it was announced in the budget speech by the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
According to Sibal, "This (direct cash transfer) is only an implementation of an announcement that has already been made."
He said the government believed that it has neither directly or indirectly violated the election code because the policy announcement was made way back in the budget speech by the then finance minister.
The Election Commission`s notice was among the issues discussed by the Group of Ministers (GoM) on media today.
In another letter to the EC, the BJP`s election cell head asked the poll body to set aside the scheme`s implementation, quoting a Union Minister`s remarks made today that details of the scheme have yet to be worked out before it is implemented across the country.
The BJP has said that this has vindicated its claim that the scheme has been launched "in haste" with a view to lure voters in poll-bound Gujarat.
The Gujarat unit of BJP had last week petitioned the poll body in this case, alleging a serious violation of the model code of conduct.
A day later, top party leaders led by LK Advani personally met the Chief Election Commissioner to complain against the announcement.
The government had in a major announcement here claimed the scheme as a "game-changer", with Finance Minister P Chidamabaram and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh personally launching the scheme from the Congress headquarters here.\
After complaining to the EC, Advani had said that such announcements should not be made by a government once election dates have been declared.
"There has been announcement of direct cash transfer... The states where elections are due should have been excluded. They (government) could not have done it under the (election) code of conduct," Advani had said.
Speaking from the AICC podium, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said while the government would respond to the EC "the main question is whether BJP is for direct cash transfer or opposed to it".
"BJP should clarify whether is for the measure or against it," he said, adding Congress has taken the position that this will benefit the stakeholders.