A revolutionary scheme to disburse subsidies, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance directly to the economically weaker sections would take off on January 1, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Sunday.

In an address after declaring open the 4,119branch of the Central Bank of India (at Sivaganga) and the 1000 branch of Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) (at Kannangudi near here), he said that in the first phase, the scheme would be implemented in 51 select districts throughout the country and extended to cover all the districts in a phased manner after seeing its success.

New districts would be covered once in three months and in the next one to one-and-a-half-years, all the districts in the country would be covered to ensure that the government subsidies, scholarships and other financial assistance directly reached the targeted group, he said.

He said financial assistance like Old Age Pension (OAP), scholarships to students, minimum wages paid to those employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme, (which provided 100 days of guaranteed employment in a financial year) and subsidies for ration products and cooking gas would be paid to the beneficiaries through their bank accounts.

The scheme has been designed to abolish middlemen, agents operating on commission basis, fake beneficiaries and above all, to wipe out corruption, he said. To successfully implement the scheme, he said, “we need more bank branches and all the nationalized banks have been asked to open more branches in all places.”

“Our aim is that all the people of the country should have bank accounts and seek banking service as a matter of right as they had right to education, right to vote and freedom of speech,” he said. The banks had duties to open more branches and serve the people, Mr. Chidambaram added.

The nationalized banks have reopened more than 4,000 branches last year and this year, they opened more than 3,500 branches so far, Mr Chidambaram said and suggested that Members of Parliament take initiatives to open more branches in their respective constituencies. “People are jealous that his Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency had the highest number of bank branches,” the Finance Minister said in a lighter vein.

He said nationalized banks were gearing up to provide employment to 63,200 people during this year and called upon educated women and men to make use of the opportunity and take up the prestigious bank jobs. Bank jobs provided decent salary and enhanced status in the society, he said. State Bank of India topped the list with providing 21,200 jobs. The other banks were providing the remaining 40,000 jobs, he said. EOM

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