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The central government's Rs7,000 crore-scheme — Har Haath Mein Phone — to provide one mobile phone to every BPL family is preposterous. The Prime Minister is planning to give away phones to six million BPL households on August, 15.
Now, if you try to understand the scheme, you will be surprised to know that the government is not "uplifting" these BPL families nor is it alleviating poverty, but is promoting telecom players in the market. What the scheme doesn't suggest is about the network? Let us assume that the government will boost BSNL's revenues and hence, choose the government-run telecom player to provide the network. But, has it thought about the signals? Will there be a proper coverage in every corner of the country? Who will pay these bills? Is subsidizing bills also on the government's cards? We do not know.
For now, let us not get into the intricacies of whether people will be able to pay their bills or whether the phone is a necessity. Let us look at the scheme:
The government will provide a mobile phone to a BPL household. Do we know what kind of phone this is? Given the life of a cellphone, it does not last for more than three years (best/minimum usage of the phone). So, will the government give new phones after these get spoilt? Even if they are considered to be working just fine, will they be able to charge these phones? (Given, that the electricity situation is worse in rural areas. And, not that the situation is great in urban areas). What about the language of the text that appears on the phone? What about those who are given phones and do not know how too read/write any language?
Now, let us look at whether the phone is a necessity. Despite the government providing subsidies to BPL families, do all of them have food? We hear of millions dying every year due to lack of food. Even then we cannot provide food to every one, but can let the grains rot in godowns.
A report in 2010 revealed that India has more cellphones than toilets. The report by Ontario-based UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health pointed out that while India had roughly 366 million people with access to improved sanitation in 2008, a far greater number, 545 million, had cell phones.
"Today, nearly 74% of India’s population, over 880 million, own mobile phones. The latest figure for toilets is not available but all reports including those from the UN and other agencies indicate that India lags woefully behind in sanitation," points out a DNA report.
While our sanitation and hunger levels remain worst, we also have the government promoting cash-rich telecom players and boosting their sales. Who is it helping here anyway? And then, we have politicians giving out/ bribing people with all the non-essential stuff to woo people, asking them to vote during elections.
Even after all the hue and cry about the scheme, if the government thinks it will better the lives of BPL families, it needs to know that people need to food to survive not cellphones. So, how about Har Pet Mein Khana, first? How do we ensure that?