Defer cash scheme in Gujarat, HP: EC

Poll panel reprimands Centre, wants follow-up steps suspended in election-bound states

Choosing not to take action against the Congress-led UPA government on the issue of the announcement of direct cash transfer scheme, the Election Commission has asked it to suspend all the "follow up and consequential steps" towards implementing the scheme in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh until the polls are over in the states.

In a milder reprimand, the Commission observed that the announcement of the scheme was “avoidable” in view of the model code of conduct in force in the two states, even as the centre’s flagship programme was scheduled to roll out on January 1, 2013, about a week after the election processes were to be over in the two states. 

It also noted that the government was “silent” when the Commission asked it to explain the need for such an announcement given the on-going poll process in the two states.
Disposing of the complaint lodged by the Gujarat unit of BJP, the poll panel expressed concern over the announcement of the scheme by the government and expected that this will not be repeated in future.

Elections in Gujarat will be held in two phases on December 13 and December 17. While the poll process has to be completed in the state before December 24, votes will be counted on December 20.

The election process in Himachal Pradesh, where polling was held on November 4, will also be completed December 24, according to an EC notification. “The Commission’s consistent approach and policy has been not to go into the merits of the policy decisions taken by the Government,” the EC said in its order, clarifying that the mandate of its hearing was only to examine the impact of policy decision or announcement by the government or if it disturbs the level playing field. 

Last week, the government had launched the first phase of its direct cash transfer scheme in 51 districts spread over 16 states from January 1 next year, including four districts in Gujarat and two in Himachal Pradesh.

Relief to government

Meanwhile, the Congress admitted that the EC’s order came as a “relief” to the government, saying had the poll panel accepted the arguments of the Opposition against the announcement of the scheme, there would have been a "stronger" order.

The circumstances, under which the decision was taken by the government, were convincing to the Commission and that is why no adverse comment was made by it, Congress spokesperson PC Chacko also said, stressing there was "no decision to suspend or scrap" the scheme.

"We are relieved and happy that there was no order to suspend or scrap the decision of the government," the congress leader said.

He, however, noted that the commission was not convinced that the announcement would have any adverse impact on the poll process.

The CEC, however, seem to have a different view on the issue.  Speaking in Chennai, V S Sampath said: "What we have mentioned in the order is clear. It is something which ought not to have been done but it is coming into effect only early next year. But they (government) need not have made an announcement about certain decisive steps for implementation of this scheme because the election process is on."

Asked if the Commission would take any further action on the issue, he said "action can take place only when something is happening. Like in Gujarat, where a few districts have been selected for coverage in the first phase, we (accordingly) directed (the government) to suspend the process."

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