The launch of the Dilli Anna Shri Yojna, claimed to be first of its kind in the country, came amid Congress signalling that cash transfer scheme beginning from the New Year in 51 districts across the country could be the party's trump card in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"The scheme reflects sympathy of UPA, Congress and the Delhi government for the poorest section of people on the issue of food security," Gandhi said, unveiling the scheme, at a function in New Delhi.
She said what striked her most about the scheme was that money will go directly into the hands of the women of the beneficiary families, which will boost their self-confidence and empowerment.
Two lakh poor families, which are not getting subsidised food under either BPL scheme or Antyodaya Anna Yojana, have been identified as the beneficiaries of the food programme. Nearly 14,000 beneficiaries were today given cash subsidy of Rs 4,800 as entitlements for last eight months as the scheme is being implemented with retrospective effect from April 1.
The Delhi government has tied up with the five leading banks for implementation of the scheme and Aadhaar-linked bank accounts are being opened in a total of 827 branches of the banks across the city.
Hailing Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and her team for a number of welfare schemes, Gandhi said cash transfer scheme is envisaged on the basis of UPA's ideology of balanced development in which the welfare of the poor matters the most.
Gandhi presented bank passbooks and Annshree enrolment certificates to the 12 women beneficiaries from slums and resettlement colonies across Delhi. She also witnessed the process of transferring the cash component to accounts of the beneficiaries and withdrawal by them with the help of a micro ATM.
While congratulating Dikshit and her team for coming out with the scheme Gandhi said it was not an alternative to PDS but an extension to the existing food security programmes.
Speaking on the occasion, Dikshit said her government has been trying to touch the lives of every section of the society through various innovative schemes and credited Gandhi for "inspiring" and infusing "energy" into her team to carry out the welfare measures.
Highlighting the scheme as a unique one, the Chief Minister said direct cash transfer will help poor people buy things depending on their need besides empowering the women.
Around four lakh poor households are getting subsidised food items under BPL and AAY schemes currently and those who are not covered by these two schemes will get the direct cash subsidies under the new programme which was announced by Dikshit while presenting the annual budget in May.
The government will spend around Rs 150 crore in thecurrent fiscal for the scheme.
The Congress in Delhi is set to bank on the scheme in the assembly elections slated for December next year. "We will definitely benefit from the Anna Shri scheme in the assembly polls in 2013," Dikshit's Parliamentary Secretary Mukesh Sharma said.
Officials said beneficiaries of the scheme will be able to withdraw the money from micro ATMs installed at 140 Gender Resource Centres of the Delhi Government. Nearly 14,000 beneficiaries have opened their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts.
"By offering their biometric details through a thumb impression or by presenting their Aadhaar number, the beneficiaries will be able to withdraw money from the micro ATMs," the officials said. The beneficiaries will also be given a card for withdrawing money from bank ATMs.
The city government has decided to provide assistance to 25 lakh people under the first phase of the scheme.
Dikshit said a total of two lakh households will be covered under the scheme in the current financial year. "We want to develop Delhi as a role model for other states."
UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani, said 1.30 crore people have been enrolled for the Aadhaar number and 1.20 crore out of them have been issued the number. The total population of Delhi is around 1.70 crore.
"By launching this scheme, Delhi has earned the first position in utilisation of Aadhaar numbers. Aadhar is, in fact, the foremost innovation which has taken place in 21st Century. We look forward to work with the city government and the banks to effectively implement Dilli Annshree Yojana," he said.
Delhi Chief Secretary P K Tripathi said through the scheme late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's dream of utilisation of IT in governance to provide relief to the underprivileged section and ensure delivery of benefits without any leakage and corruption has been achieved.
The city government has been favouring cash transfer to beneficiaries instead of subsidised food grains and had even sought an option of direct cash transfer to BPL families instead of foodgrains in the ambitious Food Security Bill, which is being vetted by a parliamentary panel.
Dikshit last month had sought Finance Minister P Chidambaram's help to facilitate direct transfer of cash subsidies and other financial assistance to 30 lakh
beneficiaries of various central and Delhi government-sponsored schemes.