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Government To Provide Free Mobile Phones To BPL Families; Why?

The UPA government has decided to provide mobile phones to 6 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) families through its Bharat mobile scheme based on lists of families prepared by state governments, reports LiveMint.

The report states that the scheme will be rolled out in the next 6 months and is expected to be completed in 3 years with preference given to people who have completed 100 days of work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and to women. The report also states that operators will be chosen to implement the project through competitive bidding, who will be responsible for providing the devices, accessories, connectivity along with warranty for 3 years.

Can all avail benefits through mobile phones? According to the report, the mobile phones will be used to identify members of a household to avail benefits of different government programs, however, people would still require their Aadhar numbers to avail subsidies and other benefits.

This sudden rush to implement a scheme that was stalled last year, clearly seems like a political gimmick right before the 2014 elections. Let’s hope that this scheme doesn’t turn out to be another unfulfilled election promise  because if this scheme was to be uniformly implemented across the country, mobile phones could be used to deliver far reaching benefits to BPL families, may be even those similar to African countries.

Devices distributed by state governments: Uttar Pradesh government had also promised laptops to to meritorious students of classes X and XII and sanctioned it in 2012. However, earlier this month, around 4.4 lakh laptops worth over Rs 830 crore, which were to be distributed to students in Uttar Pradesh, were found lying in government godowns.

The laptops were supposed to be distributed to students by Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, however, they are lying in government godowns as the the CM did not have time to distribute them. Out of the 4.4 lakh laptops, around 75 laptops were damaged due to seepage of rainwater into the godown in Lakhimpur Kheri, the report states.

Tamil Nadu government has been distributing laptops to government school and college students since 2011. The plan is to distribute 68 lakh laptops through the five year tenure of Jayalalitha, Tamil Nadu’s present Chief Minister.

It is also worth noting that the government of India had previously launched an ambitious project to launch Aakash tablets that were to be provided to students on a subsidized rates. The first three versions of Aakash failed to make any significant impact. Earlier this month, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) had put up a proposed technical specifications for the Aakash IV and invited comments from interested stakeholders on vendor neutrality, tablet usability and functionality until July 12, 2013.

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