Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Amarinder govt ready to roll out 30-lakh free smartphones
BIDS TO BE INVITED IN NOVEMBEREND FOR HANDSETS, ONEYEAR FREE DATA, CALLING; TARGET TO DISTRIBUTE PHONES BY JANFEB
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.