The Indian government rolled out the first stage of a new controversial programme for paying social welfare claimants today.
The programme is aimed at cutting out corrupt middlemen in the welfare system with payments being made directly to recipients' bank accounts.
It is inspired by Brazil's Bolsa Familia scheme, which has helped lift more than 19 million people out of poverty since 2003.
Around 440m Indians live below the poverty line.
But opposition parties said the Congress government has rushed through the changes with its eyes on elections in early 2014.
The rushed Direct Benefit Transfer system (DBT) has been plagued by difficulties and has been successively scaled back.
Gaps in India's banking infrastructure mean the first wave of subsidies only covers 20 of the country's 640 districts.
At present fewer than 60 per cent of households use banking facilities.
State-run banks are frantically trying to provide enough cash machines to meet the demand of the programme, aiming to add 5,000 ATMs to the 35,000 currently available.
DBT will continue rolling out in February and March and the government claims DBT will be available across the country by the end of the year, widely believed to be an unrealistic target.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram has described the venture as "nothing less than magical" and urged people to be patient, saying "you should expect some glitches" in such a "game-changing" programme.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) slammed the scheme as "weighted against the poor."
It said it was part of an "obsessive commitment to cut subsidies for working people."
The government has strenuously denied that the cash payments will replace its extensive food, fuel and fertiliser distribution systems - blamed for most of the corruption and lost money.
More than 200 activists and academics signed an open letter on Monday alleging that the government will soon backtrack on that pledge.
They also raised fears that the new Aadhar identification system brought in to help distribute the payments fails to properly ensure citizens' privacy.
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