Sep 11, 2010

In the footsteps of Marie Antoinette: so what if you don't have food, at least walk as you talk using the free mobile phone

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is literally chasing the legacy left behind by the French Queen Marie Antoinette. She had said: "let them eat cake, if they can't get bread." The UPA-II government is providing free mobile phones to the hungry and poor.

There can be nothing more despicable.

Like Marie Antoinette, the Union IT Minister Sachin Pilot, in whose political constituency the public-sector BSNL distributed the free mobile handsets, is not remorseful. "It is a good start made by the BSNL to make people below the poverty line feel like they too can be part of the telecom revolution. My best wishes are with them," he said in media interviews.

Free mobile handsets for the ultra-poor comes at a time when India is faced with an uproar over rotting foodgrains on the one hand, and more than 320 million living in hunger on the other. While the Prime Minister has turned down a Supreme Court's directive to distribute the rotting foodgrains to the needy, he has no problems giving them mobile phones instead.

You can read the news report and also view the news video here:

The more they use the phone, if at all, the more will be their monthly expenditure on phone calls, and this will add on to the country's GDP. The nation needs to thank the Prime Minister and his government for finding an 'innovative' way to increase GDP. Who said you can't have economic growth from hungry stomachs. Manmohan Singh is an economist, and he certainly knows it better.

It also tells us that while food is not a right, having a cell phone is.

In America, from where India borrows its economic policies, the government subsidises cell phones for the poor. About 73 per cent of adults in poverty own a mobile handsets. In a saturated market, the profits may not be large, but still the service providers are happy. According to PC World (July 9, 2010): Service providers can receive up to $10 per month in subsidies, sufficient to cover what amounts to about $3 in service.

You qualify to receive a cell phone if you are already participating in other State or Federal assistance program such as Federal Public Housing Assistance, Food Stamps and Medicaid. You also qualify if your total household income is at or below 135% of the poverty guidelines set by your State and/or the Federal Government.

And look at how unabashedly TracFone spokesman Jose Fuentes defends the scheme:  Having a telephone service, just in general, is not a privilege, it should be a right of each one. Everyone should be in contact, everybody should have the opportunity to get a phone call, especially if it's an employer."

Anyway, there may be justification for the free cell phone scheme for the American poor who in any case receive food stamps and social security to remain afloat, the same cannot be imposed in India. In fact, this is not the first time (see the article below) when phones have taken priority over food for the hungry. I am more worried at the way The Knowledge Commission has joined hands with the IT industry to sell computers in the poverty-stricken regions of the country. Not only phones, the hungry will also have access to computers.

At a time the US is kicking them out, you will see the Indian IT industry now focus aggressively on pushing computers for the rural areas. The more the sales to the poor (even if it is subsidised or provided free by the government, IT industry will get its money) the more is the probability of maintaining a lifestyle that the IT employees have got used to.

Some years back, I wrote: While researching for my book “In the Famine Trap” (published by UK Food Group, London) I was travelling in the infamous Kalahandi region of western Orissa. It was during that time some hunger-related deaths were reported from Bolangir district. I drove to the village to meet the families of those who had succumbed to hunger. As I was approaching the dusty village what appalled me was the sight of two huge satellite towers installed right in the heart of the village. Believe it or not, each house in the village had a satellite telephone. The inhabitants of the village didn’t have food to eat but were provided with telephones.

Satellite towers in a village where people had nothing to eat ! That surely is an ingenious way to bridge the technology divide so as to help the poverty-stricken join the mainline stream of upwardly mobile !!

You can read the complete article The Business of Hunger at:


Gauri Sharma said...

"they too can be a part of telecom revolution" ....Sure Sir, why not. And when they would be cremated, they would have a mobile phone with them but NOT A SINGLE GRAIN in their stomach.

Anonymous said...

I'm lost for words!

Barbara Panvel