Free BPL mobile: Adding insult to injury?

Can a mobile substitute your need for basic shelter, electricity and health?

Rashi Aditi Ghosh & Siddhrath Tak/Zee Research Group

Can a mobile substitute your need for basic shelter, electricity and health?

The UPA government, may announce a free mobile scheme for Below the Poverty Line (BPL) population in the country, surely thinks so.

What else would explain its sudden move to lure about 35 crore plus citizens living below the poverty line with the promise of a mobile? Mobile indeed has brought about a communication revolution in the country, but does it merit being gifted as a state dole when top basic amenities to this population are denied even after 65 years of independence.

The ground reality in the country is that a significant segment of the BPL population does not have guaranteed access to two square meals a day, leave alone a permanent shelter and basic electricity supply.

A Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis shows that 20 per cent BPL population does not have access to electricity yet. The free mobile phone without electricity completes the irony of the UPA government’s vote bank agenda.

Worse, the analysis of six flagship schemes of UPA-2’s performance in uplifting BPL families shows that six flagship schemes are underperforming.

Ironically, the much publicized MGNREGA that guarantees employment in rural area has just provided employment to 12.37 per cent of BPL households.

Another populist scheme, the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY), too has been a laggard when it comes to BPL focus. Under the scheme, IAY could only construct 0.51 per cent of houses under BPL families.

When it comes to urban employment amongst BPL families, only 0.9 per cent BPL persons availed skill development under Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY), as per latest official data.

The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) that aims to provide public assistance to citizens in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement too reported just 7.15 per cent BPL beneficiaries.

Ved Arya, chief executive officer at Srijan (Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action), an NGO working on poverty alleviation, says, “It’s good that government is mulling to provide cell phones to BPL populace but I have doubts on government delivery system. Many promises made earlier have not been met yet and most of the promises that have been met show sub-standard products like ‘Akash’ tablet.”

The gap between promise and delivery is indeed alarming. The health assurance under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna only issued 7.89 per cent smart cards to BPL citizens.

There is optimism too at the free mobile scheme. Telecom expert Mahesh Uppal said, “Mobile phones will empower the life of poor people in terms of health, education, employment and household earning. Studies also suggest that low income group people will always make good use of their mobile phone”.

Reinforcing Uppal’s perspective Amit Goel, chief executive officer at Knowledgefaber, said, “Mobile phones will add to the productivity and efficiency of poor people with new employment opportunities and will increase their overall earnings.”

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