In another mega scheme to woo the poor, the Centre proposes to spend Rs 7,860 crore distributing 2.5 crore mobile phones and 90 lakh tablets virtually free of cost to targeted beneficiaries over the next four years starting 2014-15, in the name of bridging the digital divide in the country.
The targeted beneficiaries will get mobile phones that will come bundled with free connection charges for two years.
Similarly, tablets will be given away to students of classes XI and XII, both in rural and urban areas. These gadgets will have free data card connection for two years.
The proposal has been sent to the telecom commission by the department of telecommunication (DoT). After it's approved by the commission, the plan will be sent to the Union cabinet.
States to decide beneficiaries :
The programme will be implemented by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd on behalf of the government. In the first year, 25 lakh mobile phones and 15 lakh tablets are proposed to be distributed at a cost of Rs 395 crore and Rs 772.5 crore, respectively. In the second year, the department aims to give away 50 lakh phones and 35 lakh tablets at a cost of Rs 880 crore and Rs 1,858.75 crore, respectively.
In the third year, 75 lakh people will get phones at an expenditure of Rs 1,365 crore and 40 lakh students will be given free tablets at a cost of Rs 2,191.25 crore. In the fourth year, the free tablets program will end but will still cost the department Rs 150 crore in providing services for the data card connections. The department will spend Rs 1,850 crore in distributing the remaining handsets.
While the administrative and distribution charges for each mobile phone will be Rs 320, for tablets this cost will come to Rs 900.
In the case of tablets, beneficiary will get device and data connectivity for a maximum period of 2 years or his/her duration of study at school, whichever is less. The service provider will give a free package of 75 minutes talk time, 75 SMSes and 500 MB data usage every month.
The proposal says selection of beneficiaries for the programme will be done by state governments. But they will have to meet broad guidelines fixed by the department — only one beneficiary from each family covered under MGNREGA and 30% 'open' beneficiaries for mobile phones.
For tablets, the government will target students of classes XI and XII studying in government schools who are not covered by other similar schemes. The list of eligible students would be provided by school authorities and authenticated by state governments.
Funding for the programmes will from the Universal Service Obligation Fund, which is being realized through a levy of 5% on telecom services revenues from operators. Till March 31, 2013, this kitty had nearly Rs 28,000 crore and Rs 6,500 crore was being added every year.