6 million mobile phones to be given to BPL families

PhonesApparently to woo the voters in the next Lok Sabha elections, the UPA-led central government has announced that mobile phones will be given to six million families that live below poverty line (BPL). To be implemented as part of Bharat Mobile scheme, this is estimated to cost Rs 7,000 crore to the exchequer.

The government’s decision aims to offer unconnected citizens residing in rural areas access to various benefits of welfare programmes. According to media reports the scheme will be rolled out in the next 6 months and will continue over the next 3 years. The scheme will give preference to families that have completed 100 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme, and to women.

The mobile handsets will act as the first tier of authentication for the user and can be used to access information, including land records and details of payments; however, for subsidies and other government’s welfare schemes families still require Unique Identification Number (Aadhar).

What does it mean?

Undoubtedly mobile phones can be used by government to transfer benefits directly to BPL families but the timing of announcement suggests that the 2014 general elections are a key consideration. At the same time, this is good news for the telecom companies, private players and startups eyeing to tap into rural areas. The program could be meaningful with the government’s plans on financial inclusion, direct cash transfer and programs like the mobile based fertiliser management system.

Earlier, the government launched an ambitious project to give Aakash tablets to students at subsidized rates. However, the scheme did not make any significant impact. Giving away electronic freebies is not a new concept; the state governments in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have been distributing free laptops to college students.