Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Amarinder govt ready to roll out 30-lakh free smart­phones

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTPUNJAB - Sukhdeep Kaur sukhdeep.kaur@hin­dus­tan­times.com

CHANDIGARH: The cash-strapped Cap­tain Amarinder Singh-led gov­ern­ment is ready to dole out more free­bies from its pop­ulist poll man­i­festo ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elec­tions.

The global bids for pro­vid­ing free smart­phones and one-year free data and call­ing to nearly 30 lakh youth will be in­vited this month. The depart­ment of in­dus­tries and com­merce has pre­pared the re­quest for pro­posal and it is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion of a com­mit­tee com­pris­ing top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“The global bids, invit­ing both the equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers


and ser­vice providers, will be floated by No­vem­ber-end. We will be able to al­lot the con­tract by De­cem­ber and dis­trib­ute smart­phones by Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary,” ad­di­tional chief sec­re­tary, in­dus­tries, Vini Mahajan said.

State fi­nance min­is­ter Man­preet Badal had set aside a to­ken ₹10 crore for the scheme in his first bud­get in June last year as Amarinder had promised to ful­fil the poll prom­ise within his first 100 days in power. The new bud­get for the scheme will be sanc­tioned de­pend­ing on the bids ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment.

The “Cap­tain Smart Con­nect” scheme was launched in No­vem­ber 2016 in the run-up to last year’s state polls for vot­ers be­tween the age of 18 and 35 years who have passed Class 10.

While Amarinder had de­fended the poll sop as a way to “em­power youth by con­nect­ing them dig­i­tally”, the scheme proved to be a vote-catcher for the Congress.

A sec­tion of the rul­ing party min­is­ters and MLAs had been pres­sur­ing the gov­ern­ment not to de­lay its roll­out as it would pro­vide am­mu­ni­tion to op­po­si­tion par­ties in Par­lia­men­tary polls.

Some Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lead­ers had mocked the gov­ern­ment by dis­tribut­ing dummy mo­bile phones on Di­wali in Moga. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) too had been ac­cus­ing the Congress of re­turn­ing to power by promis­ing vot­ers the moon. Both the par­ties have dubbed the am­bi­tious farm debt waiver scheme, among the first few poll prom­ises ful­filled by the Cap­tain gov­ern­ment af­ter com­ing to power, as a “fail­ure”.

But ac­cord­ing to a state func­tionary, the de­lay in the scheme’s roll­out has worked to the gov­ern­ment’s ad­van­tage. “Both smart­phones and data plans have be­come highly com­pet­i­tive now. All tele­com ser­vice providers are vy­ing for 4G pen­e­tra­tion and would be more than ea­ger to cap­ture a mar­ket of 30-lakh sub­scribers, both new and ex­ist­ing,” he said.

A lead­ing player is al­ready of­fer­ing a 4G smart­phone to users for a re­fund­able de­posit of ₹1,500 for three years with free call­ing, no roam­ing charges and 1 GB data per day at ₹49 a month.

The fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tion of free data for a year may still be high. Even a rental plan of ₹50 a month for 30 lakh users would add up to ₹180 crore yearly bill for the gov­ern­ment.

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