While the cabinet acceded to Rahul Gandhi’s wish and increased the annual cap for subsidised gas cylinders from nine to 12, the meeting on Thursday saw a heated debate between ministers on the linkage of LPG subsidies to Aadhaar and bank accounts so much so that an exasperated Finance Minister P Chidambaram at one point suggested stopping Aadhaar altogether.
With several ministers, including K V Thomas, Jairam Ramesh and Kapil Sibal, suggesting that the Aadhaar linkage to LPG subsidies has resulted in large scale complaints which the government can ill afford now, sources said Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily at one point suggested that the project be put on hold for four months which, however, did not find favour. Finally, the cabinet decided to put on hold direct transfer of LPG subsidy to the consumer’s Aadhaar-linked bank account pending an evaluation by a committee after Defence Minister A K Antony, whose views were sought by the Prime Minister, threw his weight behind putting it on hold.
Sources said Antony, known to be reticent, spoke for about 10 minutes – the crux of which was that the government should respond to the problems being faced by the people. His intervention swung the debate in favour of putting the linkage on hold.
Sources said Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas set the tone of the debate, citing the difficulties being faced by consumers in his constituency Ernakulam. He argued in favour of putting the linkage on hold and giving more time to consumers to link their Aadhaar number with gas connections and open bank accounts.
He views found favour with Sibal, Ramesh and V Narayanasamy. Moily, sources said, then suggested postponement of the linkage by four months, which did not find favour as the ministers felt it would be construed as a move with an eye on election. Sources said as the debate went on, Chidambaram at one point suggested stopping Aadhaar altogether. Sources said the ministers, taken aback by his suggestion, immediately pointed out that they were not in any way suggesting that and the demand was only to postpone the mandatory linkage for some time. Antony, who spoke after the PM turned to him, argued that in a democracy, decisions are taken on the basis of experience and pointed out that the government should factor in the public sentiment.
DDC vice-chairperson Ashish Khetan said, “As of today he does not hold the charge anymore.”