India cash transfer scheme delayed in two states

Unemployed educated Indian women wait to register themselves at the Employment Exchange Office in Allahabad, India.
Image caption The government says cash transfers will be a game-changer

India's election authorities have asked the government to postpone a plan to replace welfare schemes with cash payouts to individuals in two states which are conducting polls.

The Election Commission said the plan should be postponed in six districts of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh states until the polls were completed there.

This followed a complaint by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The party said the government had violated the election code of conduct.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had written to the Election Commission saying the government should withdraw 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.

Last week, the government announced that money meant for the recipients of 29 welfare programmes - mainly related to scholarships and pensions - would 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.

The Congress-led government told the commission that it had not violated the election code of conduct as the decision of cash transfers was only an "implementation of an announcement that has already been made".

The Election Commission said that government announcement was "avoidable" and said "all measures leading up to the roll out of the plan in the six districts of the two states shall be kept in abeyance till the completion of the election process".

Authorities say the plan 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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