Criticism forces UPA to drop cell phone scheme

Criticism forces UPA to drop cell phone scheme

The Congress-led UPA government is understood to have put on hold a populist scheme of giving one free mobile phone set to every below poverty line (BPL) family ahead of the 2014 general election after party leaders cautioned that it may backfire on the government.

According to informed sources, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to announce the scheme, christened  ‘Har Haath Mein Phone (a phone in every hand)’, during his Independence Day speech here. On second thoughts, the government decided to shelve the scheme, at least for now, on Wednesday.

The decision to defer the scheme, to cost a whopping Rs 7,000 crore, came after Congress leaders themselves reacted adversely. They are said to have advised the party brass and the Prime Minister himself that the government should not go ahead with the announcement.

Cell phone sales in India touched 213 million sets in 2011 and is expected to record a massive 231 million this year.

No power, no charge

Among the factors cited by the Congress leaders that could negate the purpose of the scheme and even boomerang on the government is, first and foremost, the dispute over the number of BPL families.

According to government records, there are six crore BPL families, while the states’ estimate 11 crore. Taking the middle path, the Planning Commission has put it at eight crore.

Power woes

The severe power shortage gripping several states may leave mobile users high and dry with no electricity to even charge their phones, leave alone use them, noted the leaders. Another pertinent question posed was whether these abjectly poor families would have money to spare to recharge their mobiles.

The BJP, which first came up with the scheme as part of its “Vision document in 2009, was now critical of the proposal. “This is clearly an election ploy. the government should provide electricity to villages first,” said party MP Balbir Punj.

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