Policy-makers may have lamented that cell phones are a bigger craze than toilets in rural India, but ahead of the 2014 election, the UPA is launching a mobile phone scheme to woo rural voters.
The scheme to provide heavily-subsidised mobile phones and free recharge coupons are also targeted at empowering a vulnerable section: the rural women.
The UPA government has set in motion a Rs. 4,850 crore scheme to distribute 2.5 crore mobile phones to families of the national rural employment scheme workers.
But the plan says, "Beneficiaries shall be women, for each eligible household, unless the household does not have a woman member."
The government also aims to introduce mobile banking through the phones to overcome the hurdles of delay in payment of the landmark scheme. "The phones will have several applications and provide information services on agriculture, healthcare and education too," said an official. The payment of the NREGA has failed to be a seamless affair in large parts of the country.
A beneficiary will get a mobile handset for `300 which otherwise costs `1,200. The Centre will bear the subsidy of `900 for each handset. Every month BSNL, the service provider, will recharge Rs. 30 for free on every handset. This recharge will entail 30 minutes talktime, 30 sms and 30 mbps of data download.
The whole scheme will be rolled out in next four years, starting from this October. In the 2014 polls, Congress will try to showcase the positive sides of the telecom policy, like the cheapest call rates and affordable mobile regime.