The government is planning to launch a new scheme under which a mobile handset will be distributed to those who are Below Poverty Line (BPL).
According to reports, the government is finalising a scheme of Rs7,000 Crore, which will also offer Rs200 free talk time to all these subscribers. The funds required for the project is partly taken from telecom department’s Universal Service Obligation fund, the goal of which is to provide mobile connectivity in mobile areas.
As noble as the goal may be, the money may be better spent in improving the existing infrastructure in the country. Cell phones need to connect to network towers and these towers need to be powered by diesel generators in case there is no power. Also, there are 400 million people in India who have no access to electricity, most of whom fall under the BPL. How are these people expected to charge their phone every other day? Does the Rs 7,000 Crore include the cost of bringing electricity to remote areas of India or setting up solar power plants in these areas? If yes, is it enough?
Now let us look at the upfront cost. Assuming that a basic mobile phone with of decent quality will cost Rs 1,000, the government will spend Rs600 crore procuring the mobile phone for the 60 lakh BPL households. According to the plan, the government will spend an additional Rs 100 crore every month on footing the bills incurred by the free talk time that is bundles. Add to this the cost of distributing the phone and creating a system for the same the cost goes up by several hundred crores.
These are just the upfront costs, then there is the repetitive expense of paying the mobile phone bills over the years and also the question of repairing faulty mobile phones. Who will handle that? The manufacturer or a government agency? What will the government do to ensure that cash-strapped poor will not sell off their phone for a few hundred rupees than use it?
It is hilarious that the government has announced another project which sounds promising on paper but almost impossible to pull off in real life at a time when they are struggling to meet the goals of Aakash tablet project.
The UPA government at this moment, needs to take a step back and rethink this populist announcement. Does it make sense to announce another grand project which is bound to fail, while making a few babus in the system rich. They should instead focus on giving the people the essentials roti, kapda aur makan. It is laughable that the same party which opposed NDA’s India Shining campaign is making the same mistakes NDA made by ignoring the real issues for populist measures.
The plan also doesn’t take into account the effect setting up of cellphone towers can have on the ecosystem. According to a study by 2010 Department of Telecommunication, birds were affected by radiation from these towers. The damage doesn’t stop there, a few years down the line people will discard these phones and the country still does not have enough e-recycling centres across the country to handle such dumping of electronic goods.
The government seems to have forgotten the meaning of BPL, so let me clarify again, it stands for below poverty line. People who fall in this bracket are extremely poor or have enough money to bribe babus to buy their way into this category (to receive added benefits). So can we please see to it that measures are taken to uplift them rather than handing them a few goodies to buy their votes?