Ahmedabad: The Election Commission is dissatisfied with the government's response on the direct cash transfer scheme and has asked the government to defer its implementation in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh till the end of the assembly elections. EC had questioned the timing of the cash transfer scheme, to which the government had replied that the scheme was announced before the announcement of poll dates.
The government had said that the decision had been announced first in March 2012 by then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during the Budget speech. The Election Commission had sought a report from the Cabinet Secretary on Sunday alleging that the timing of the implementation of the scheme was suspect, coming as it was just days before the Gujarat polls.
The Centre in its reply had said that while the first announcement was made in March 2012, the first press release on the matter from the PMO was issued on September 28, where as the date for the Gujarat elections were announced only later on October 3, which is when the Model Code of Conduct came into force.
"It is submitted that 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 of Conduct on 3rd October, 2012," the government statement said.
Expressing unhappiness over the announcement of the direct cash transfer scheme by the Centre at a time when the Model Code of Conduct was in force, the Election Commission had sought a report from the government over the matter. In a strongly-worded letter to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, the EC had conveyed its unhappiness over the timing of the announcement by the Government and said it could have been avoided in view of the Gujarat elections later this month.
The Gujarat unit of BJP had 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 had personally met the Chief Election Commissioner to complain against the announcement.
Incidentally, four of the 51 districts in which the cash transfer scheme was to be implemented from January 1, 2013 fall in poll-bound Gujarat. 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.
Below is the full text of the order:
Election Commission of India
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi - 110001.
No 437/6/CG/2012-CC&BE Dated 4th December, 2012.
The Cabinet Secretary,
Subject:- Aadhar based Direct Cash Transfers - announcement by the Central Government - regarding.
Ref:- 1. The Commission's letter of even number dated 30th November, 2012, addressed to the Cabinet Secretary.
2. The Commission's letter of even number dated 2nd December, 2012, addressed to the Cabinet Secretary.
3. Letter dated 3rd December, 2012 from Cabinet Secretariat to the Election Commission of India.
4. Letter dated 3rd December, 2012 from Secretary to the Government of India, Planning Commission, to the Election Commission of India (copy enclosed).
I am directed to refer to the letters referred to above on the subject cited and to state as under.
The Commission has carefully considered the aforesaid reply furnished by Secretary to Government of India, Planning Commission, dated 03/12/2012. Whereas the details of the scheme of Aadhar based Direct Cash Transfer have been furnished therein, the letter is, however, 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.
The Commission has taken note of the chronology of milestones in the process as set out in the background note annexed to the aforesaid letter of Secretary to Government of India, Planning Commission. The Commission has also taken note of the statement made by the Finance Minister in his budget speech in March, 2012, of the fact that the Government had accepted the recommendations of the Task Force headed by Shri Nandan Nilekani on strategy for direct transfer of subsidy made in February, 2012 as also of the subsequent initiatives and actions taken after March, 2012.
The Commission's consistent approach and policy has been not to go into the merits of the policy decisions taken by the Government. The Commission's concern is only to see whether any such policy decision or announcement thereof will have any impact on the election, if it is in progress, and whether it will disturb the level playing field amongst political parties and candidates in election fray. In the instant case also, the Commission's concern is limited to the above issue.
Taking into consideration of the above 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 Commission, therefore, expresses concern over such 'announcement' and expects that such announcements during Model Code of Conduct operation are avoided.
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.
Kindly acknowledge receipt of this letter.