India unveils cash subsidy plan for poor

Indian woman
Image caption Millions of people in India live below the poverty line

India has unveiled the details of an ambitious plan for a cash payout of subsidies to the poor from 1 January.

The scheme will be launched in 51 districts initially and will cover the entire country by the end of 2013, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said.

Authorities say it will be a potential game-changer, bringing the country's poorest citizens into the mainstream.

But opposition parties have accused the government of "bribing the voters" ahead of the 2014 general elections.

Mr Chidambaram said the government planned to disburse 3,200bn rupees ($58bn; £36bn) under the scheme.

The money would be transferred to the beneficiary's bank account which would be linked to a unique identification number.

Under the scheme, those living below the poverty line will receive between 30,000 rupees ($542; £338) and 40,000 rupees ($723; £450) per year in lieu of nearly 30 welfare programmes, including scholarships and pensions.

Officials say it will reduce waste while ensuring federal welfare money reaches those who need it most.

Analysts, however, say implementing the scheme may not be easy as only 222 million people in India have so far enrolled into a biometric identity scheme, most poor families do not have bank accounts and many villages do not even have a bank.

Indian authorities say around 360 million people currently live in poverty. But one estimate suggests that nearly 77% of India's 1.21 billion people live below the poverty line.

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