Mobiles to BPL janta: How about the toilets first?

Supriya Jha

Come 15 August, and the UPA government is all set to bestow a sort of “freedom of expression” worth Rs 7000 crores to faceless millions who are grossly clubbed together and tagged as ‘below poverty line’ for not being able to afford even two square meals a day.

Yes, 6 million BPL households would be gifted cell phones bundled with free local talk time worth Rs 200. Aaah! The perfect icing on the cake…right?

But before we revel on the ‘freedom’ to talk, here’s one more fact - half of Indian population also enjoys a not-so-pleasant freedom – the freedom to defecate in open.

Thanks to a UN report that first brought the cell phone-toilet debate out in the open in 2010 when it highlighted that more Indians have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet.

According to Indian census 2011, 49.8 per cent Indian households defecate in open whereas 63.2 per cent households own a telephone connection and 53.2 per cent of them a mobile.


The same government that was in news recently for fluctuating between Rs 31 to Rs 28 as the daily expenditure limit to decide if the family is above poverty line, is now willing to provide cell phones to those who have a stomach to fill.

Isn’t it a cruel mockery of millions of those Indians, who already have been on the receiving end of hunger and poverty?

Isn’t it like buying ice cream for someone who first needs roti? As they say, “Politics has strange subtexts.” The UPA has its eyes stuck on 2014 polls and hence the lures! And why not, the formula is well proven!

Still, if there’s any doubt, Congressmen can turn to Kalaingar or Amma of Tamil Nadu for inspiration.

It may also be true that UPA is trying to kill two birds with one stone! While on one hand, the UPA is sowing free SIM cards to harvest 6 million votes in 2014, it might also be eyeing to heal the hackneyed telecom sector, which hasn’t yet recovered from the bruises dealt by the 2G scam.

But the big question that needs to be posed is – For all this, where is the big moolah coming from? Half of the total cost incurred will be provide by the bidder, who gets the right to provide this service. The remaining will be pocketed from the telecom department’s USO (Universal service obligation) funds. To simplify, we the tax payers will fund – as with other grandiose schemes – a part of the cell phone.

According to the government, this ambitious project of Rs 7000 crores will help them “connect to aam aadmi”.

If we were to consider that all the 600 million will join the telecom network, have the planners thought about what will happen after the Rs 200 free talk time gets over? Are the beneficiaries to save Rs 6.5 from the Rs 27 they will earn per day?

Or will the government come up with another scheme to keep providing free talk time?

Government’s free cell phone scheme has done well to refuel the brouhaha over its skewed priorities. Is a cell phone the basic touchstone to measure how developed a country is? A country that has been criticized for its poor basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, won’t be lauded just because more of the over 121 crore Indians possess a cell phone.

How about a ‘developing India’ that has a man defecating in open while talking on the phone! Great Idea!!!