The government’s ‘game-changing’ direct cash transfer scheme will come with a free gift next year — Aadhaar-enabled smartphones for around 400 million of India’s poor.
The phones — expected to cost the government Rs. 7,000 crore — will come with 100 hours of free talk time, 500 free SMSes, free internet and a low-rental plan. They will be pre-loaded with mobile banking facilities based on Aadhaar numbers, which means beneficiaries will be saved trips to their bank branches.
According to a senior government official, the phones will be the government’s “direct interface with the beneficiaries” and will “empower the poor” by keeping them informed about the money the government provides for them.
“As soon as the money is credited into an account or ration is received at a fair price shop, the person will receive an SMS on the mobile,” the official said.
Cash transfers are set to roll out in January with a target to reach all by the year-end, in time for the general elections in 2014. The Centre is likely to announce the phone plan in budget 2013.
However, in order to get a smartphone, one must have an Aadhaar number and an account in a bank or post office.
The prime minister's office has instructed district administrations to help people with these.
Government officials said they would prefer to give the phones to the senior-most female member of a poor household, real "homemakers" and also beneficiaries under different government schemes.
Half of the funding for the scheme is likely to come from the telecom department's Universal Service Obligation funds while the remaining 50% will likely be bourne by the service provider that wins the bid.