An ambitious scheme to provide free mobile handsets to each family in villages and tablet PCs to 90 lakh students across government schools under a plan that could cost the exchequer nearly Rs 10,000 crore is said to be in the works of the government.
This has been mooted in a note for the Telecom Commission (TC), the highest decision making body in the Department of Telecom (DoT). If TC approves it, the proposal may go to the Cabinet for clearance.
The proposed free mobile phone scheme is expected to benefit 2.5 crore individuals in rural households while the free tablet programme would cover students in 11th and 12th classes.
Apart from the devices, the plan is to offer free recharge of Rs 360 every year for the mobile phones for two years. This will include talk-time of 30 minutes, 30 SMSes and 30 MB for possible Internet usage.
Similarly, the tablet PC is proposed to come with bundled SIM, Internet usage of up to 500 MB, talk-time of Rs 75 and 75 SMSes for a specified period.
Both schemes, if approved by the authorities concerned, are expected to start after March 2014. General elections are due to be conducted before May.
India has 90.3 crore telecom subscribers (mobile and landline), the second biggest market after China.
According to sources, the tablet PC scheme is to be jointly funded by the Department of Telecom and Universal Services Obligations Fund (USOF) - a fund to facilitate telecom services in rural areas.
"Of the total cost of Rs 4,972.5 crore (for tablets), USOF will fund 60 per cent of the total cost, ie Rs 2,983.5 crore, for the eligible students in rural areas and DoT will fund 40 per cent of the total cost, ie Rs 1,989 crore, for eligible students of urban areas," official sources said.
The mobile phone scheme, meant for mainly MGNREGA workers, is estimated to cost the government Rs 4,850 crore and allotment will be completed over period of six years.
The final cost will depend on the bidding process.
The DoT will initially seek approval of the Telecom Commission for the two schemes before seeking final approval from the Cabinet, sources added.
The project is proposed to be implemented through state-run BSNL which will float tenders for sourcing of mobile phones and tablets.
Both phones and tablet PCs are proposed to come with warranty of three years.