India government defends cash transfer decision

Unemployed educated Indian women wait to register themselves at the Employment Exchange Office in Allahabad, India.

India's government has told election authorities that it had not violated any election code of conduct while announcing a plan for a cash transfer of welfare schemes to individuals.

The Election Commission had sought an explanation after the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protested.

The BJP said it had come at a time when two states were holding polls and had violated the election code of conduct.

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are voting in November and December.

The BJP had written to the Election Commission saying the government should withdraw the announcement of the plan until the polls were over in the two states.

Polling is scheduled to end on 17 December and the votes will be counted three days later.

Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal said the decision of cash transfers was only an "implementation of an announcement that has already been made".

He said the government would file a detailed reply on the questions raised by the Election Commission.

Reports say the Election Commission was consulting lawyers over the issue, and would take a decision soon.

Under the scheme, money meant for recipients of 29 welfare programmes - mainly related to scholarships and pensions - will be transferred to bank accounts linked to their unique identification numbers in 51 districts spread over 16 states from next January.

If all goes well, the scheme will cover the entire country by the end of 2013.

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.

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