As the BJP goes to the Election Commission against the UPA government’s announcement of the direct cash transfer scheme, ponder this: in the 2009 general election manifesto, while the Congress gave preference to traditionally leaking welfare systems like job guarantee, food guarantee, health guarantee, forest produce guarantee, etc, the BJP stood out for promising “reforms” in the subsidy delivery mechanism, in fact, for vowing to make “all welfare payments” to bank accounts, linked to “national identity cards” of eligible beneficiaries.
On Tuesday, as the Congress proudly and publicly laid claim to the idea, even calling it a “game changer” and “political revolution” backed by Rahul Gandhi, the BJP scrambled to counter it apart from L K Advani telling party leaders to prepare a “policy paper” on it.
Yes, there are many problems ahead as the scheme is actually put into place — including identification of genuine beneficiaries, technological and structural reach, preparedness in remote corners, apart from sensitising stakeholders. That explains the government’s reluctance to include subsidies on food, fertilisers and NREGS (totalling Rs 1.75 lakh crore annually) under direct cash transfer right away. It is starting with relatively simpler schemes — 22 scholarship schemes make up the 29 identified — and with just 51 districts for now.
There are also the political hurdles to cross given the strong reservations to the scheme among the powerful and influential left-leaning policy advocates.
So while the Congress and BJP can endlessly argue over direct cash transfer for the sake of politics, the need of the hour for this scheme — recognised as needed by both of them — is cooperation. Its success depends on seamless cooperation from the panchayat to the national level given the role of local and state governments in implementation of most centrally sponsored schemes. An idea may be only as good as its implementation, but before that, it needs a chance to get there.
Ravish is an assistant editor based in Delhi