The Planning Commission has expressed reservation on the UPA government’s pre-poll sop of giving subsidised mobile phones and tablets to the poor. The panel has been opposing giving freebies to people in the name of empowerment which does not serve any public purpose. The Supreme Court had also asked the Election Commission to regulate freebies offered by political parties in their manifestos.
“When majority of the poor don’t have regular power supply how would the government ensure that mobiles and tablets are used optimally?” asked a senior plan panel official. Around 40% of Indian rural homes don’t have power connection and most are poor. The telecom ministry, which mooted the proposal, claims that it would bridge the digital divide. The panel has also observed that the intended scheme does not provide for recovery of money in case the beneficiary sells the phone or the tablet to someone else. Another issue raised was about the equipment not reaching the intended beneficiaries and being siphoned off in between.
The telecom commission also cleared Rs. 7,000 crore proposal to give free mobile phones and tablets to 6.5 crore poor from the next financial year (2014-15). The government would also provide free mobile recharge of Rs. 360 every year, 30 SMSes and 30 MB of internet usage.