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Akhilesh Yadav announces another sop - free smartphones for UP's poor

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Two days after hinting that he will make the distribution of 'Samajwadi smartphones' a part of his party's election manifesto, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav unveiled his ambitious plan to attract voters from the underprivileged sections of the society and establish a direct two-way communication with the people.

While the manifesto may still be in the making, Akhilesh has confidently stolen a march over his rivals by dangling the mobile phone bait before the voters much before election dates are announced.

The criteria for mobile distribution have been set. Those who are at least 18 years of age on 1 January 2017 and whose income does not exceed Rs 2 lakh per annum will be eligible for a "fully loaded, high quality" smartphone as a gift from the government. Those applying should be also residents of UP and should at least have passed high school.

Those employed in the private sector and whose annual income is Rs 2 lakh or less alone can apply

Those who are in government jobs or are dependent on those in government employment cannot apply for the government's gift. In other words, those employed in the private sector and whose annual income is Rs 2 lakh or less alone can apply.

Those desirous of getting the phone have to apply online. Applicants would be required to upload a self-attested scanned copy of their high school certificate. No other document would be needed.

The registration process for mobile distribution would begin in a month, and transparency has been assured. The actual distribution will begin in the second half of 2017 on a 'first-come, first-served' basis.

In a statement, the Chief Minister said his government had distributed 18 lakh laptops for free without inviting any allegations of corruption or compromising the quality of the laptops.

Features available

The smartphones will be equipped with applications for audio, visual and textual information about the government's programmes and policies.

Applications loaded will be helpful for farmers, dairy owners and job applicants. The phones will also be equipped with teaching material for students and features to assist small businessmen.

The CM assured that directly connecting with the people would help bring transparency in the government's working.

Earlier in the day, at a function in Ghaziabad, Akhilesh claimed he had done more towards a digital state than what the Prime Minister's Digital India programme had achieved.

Not as expensive to the state as it seems

The criteria of income, education and private sector jobs would drastically reduce the number of eligible phone-seekers.

According to a Reserve Bank of India report, Uttar Pradesh was ranked 20th in India with 29.43% people living below the poverty line. The Planning Commission had, in its 2012 report on poverty line, given the monthly per capita income for the state as Rs 768 for rural areas and Rs 941 for urban areas.

A former secretary of planning and finance said the annual per capita income in the state would not be more than Rs 5,500, while the percentage of BPL families would be 30.

This does not reflect a family's income as almost all members of a family work for a living, he said.

This would mean that the actual financial burden on the state exchequer on account of this scheme would be less than what it was in the case of laptops.

Reaction from the Opposition

The announcement immediately invited a response from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which still appears to be slow-footed compared to the SP. The party called the announcement on mobile phones "a political gimmick".

Interestingly, the BSP and the BJP are not taking a call on announcing populist schemes. The Congress, during Rahul Gandhi's kisan yatra, is promising to halve the electricity rates for farmers if it is brought to power.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 6 September 2016, 11:01 IST