The Congress party-led Union government is going ahead with a plan to give mobile phones to six million families that live below poverty line (BPL), drawing comparison with regional parties that have made election promises to hand out freebies such as laptops and television sets.

The government is packaging its Bharat mobile scheme as a means to provide unconnected citizens access to benefits of welfare programmes.

“In addition to communication, mobile (is) to act as a device identity of the members of a household for transfer of benefits of different government programmes," says an internal undated presentation of the department of telecommunications (DoT), and reviewed by Mint.

To be sure, the phone number may act as the first level of authentication for the user and can be utilized to access information, including land records and details of payments made to a family. To avail subsidies and other government benefits, people will still need the Aadhaar unique identification number.

The government earlier this year began piloting direct cash transfers of certain subsidies directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries.

“The scheme should begin rolling out in the next six months," a senior DoT official said, requesting anonymity.

Some analysts see a political gimmick in the scheme.

“It is certainly a very political move and designed to earn brownie points ahead of the elections, much like the various states giving out laptops and such," Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst said. But “it is definitely a cheaper option".

India’s scheduled for a national election next year.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has been giving laptops and tablet computers to students who pass class 12 examinations.

In Tamil Nadu, local political parties have been known to promise laptops, food grinders and television sets apart from subsidized food grain as part of their election mandates.

According to the DoT presentation, every rural household that has at least one member who completed 100 days of work under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in 2012 will get a mobile phone.

The scheme will be completed in three years and follow lists of eligible citizens prepared by state governments.

Women will be given preference to receive the mobile phones.

The scheme will be implemented by operators selected through competitive biddings or nominated state-run operators.

The operators will be responsible for providing the devices, accessories, connectivity as well as warranty for three years.

The mobile phones will have customized embedded opening screens giving details of the scheme and the allocated number will act as a level of authentication to provide access to health records, land records and payment transfers, according to the presentation.

The plan to provide mobile phones to BPL families was first expected to be announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day speech last year, the Indian Express had reported on 8 August 2012.

The proposal at the time was envisaged to cost around 7,000 crore. At the time, the opposition criticized the plan saying that without electricity, a mobile phone was of little use.

India ended April with 867.02 million mobile connections, according to monthly figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. This included 345.85 million rural connections, a 40.59% rural teledensity.

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