What do you give someone you have already guaranteed a job and subsidised food? Especially since, albeit without a legally enforceable right, you have already given subsidised healthcare and even education—the latter is legally enforceable only till Class VIII. A phone, that’s what! A mobile phone, naturally, since that is what customers want, as millions are giving up their landlines each year.
Great idea, but how do you pay for it? Not the budget, given how, when asked about it at a press conference on Wednesday, the finance minister pooh poohed the idea. The Bharat Mobile scheme, trotted out by the department of telecom (DoT) once again this year, has come up with an ingenious solution. The government levies a charge equal to 5% of the annual revenue of telcos and puts this in a Universal Services Obligation (USO) fund which is meant to subsidise rural telephony. Since the fund is cumbersome, few use it and the fund has R24,000 crore of unused funds. This is what the DoT wants to use, to buy the phones for ‘Bharat’, people who have worked 100 days on the other UPA flagship MGNREGA. Phone-a-vote basically.