The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has taken quick follow-up action to implement the decisions on direct cash transfers announced earlier this week, making it clear that it was on the government’s priority list.

Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterji has written to nine secretaries of the Union government asking them to “get down to the immediate task of operationalising direct cash transfers in the identified schemes in your Department.”

The ambitious scheme, which is scheduled for an initial launch in 51 districts on January 1, 2013, aims to shift the state’s social entitlements — including fuel, food and fertilizer subsidies — into a cash format. To begin with, people entitled to subsidised LPG cylinders will be given money to cover the difference from the market price. The scheme is expected to be a major feature on the Congress’ poll plank in the 2014 general election.

Mr. Chatterji’s letter comes just days after the first meeting of the National Committee on Direct Cash Transfers chaired by the Prime Minister on November 26, which thrashed out the details of the scheme. “The emphasis should be on having a seamless and trouble free rollout of the programme, first in 51 districts and subsequently as per the agreed rollout plan,” said the letter.

One of the two key pillars of the scheme is the Aadhaar programme, whose unique identification systems will be used to authenticate beneficiaries of the cash transfer, and Ministry teams will meet weekly to complete the necessary digitisation. “The main issue which you need to focus on is ensuring that you have a complete list of beneficiaries in digitised form seeded with Aadhaar numbers for your schemes. Digitisation of beneficiaries’ database is critical for rolling out direct cash transfers and maximum effort on this needs to be put in at the state and district levels,” the letter said.

Mr. Chatterji also wrote to Unique Identification Authority of India chairman Nandan Nilekani — who runs the Aadhaar programme — asking him to supply dedicated personnel to assist each of the nine implementing Ministries in the task of database digitisation.

The other key pillar is the banking infrastructure needed to implement direct cash transfers. On this, the PMO wrote to the Department of Financial Services, whose Secretary heads the Financial Inclusion Committee. A meeting will be immediately held to oversee the smooth opening of bank accounts by the beneficiaries, the linking of these accounts with Aadhaar numbers and facilitating the post office network and business correspondents who will dispense the cash at the grass-roots level.

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