The UPA government on Tuesday announced an ambitious project to transfer cash handouts, such as old-age pensions, directly to the bank accounts of millions of end-users, strongly pitching it as a service from the Congress for the common man, rather than a reform.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and finance minister P Chidambaram symbolically chose the party headquarters — 24 Akbar Road — to announce what is essentially a reform measure. They said when the project kicks off in January 2013, the Congress will have fulfilled a key promise made in its 2009 election manisfesto.
The political message was clear: not all reforms bite, some can bring cheer too by sprucing up public delivery.
Chidambaram said 42 schemes — including 14 scholarship facilities under various ministries — would move to the new platform in 51 districts across 16 states initially. However, the government is not moving two big subsidy handouts — food and fertiliser — on to the new platform just yet.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will monitor implementation of the project through the party's leaders in the select districts.
"Garib ka paise uske haath me hoga (The poor's money will be in their hands)," Ramesh said.
The new delivery mechanism will link bank accounts to Aadhar smart cards, which are singular, identity numbers based on biometric database of individuals, the largest in the world.
The outcomes could be astonishing. A student would be able to receive his monthly scholarships instantly. Elderly pensioners, whose allowances often come in fits and starts, will get timely payments, cutting out bribe-seekers.
A lot depends on how effectively the plan is rolled out. "In any new project, there are problems," Ramesh said, when asked about complaints of non-delivery in Rajasthan during experimental trials earlier. The government plans cover the entire country by the end of next year.