The government is likely to spend Rs 7,000 crore to provide a mobile phone to every family below the poverty line.
The scheme - titled Har Haath Mein
Phone (in every hand, a phone) - will be announced on Independence Day in the PM's speech to the nation, said sources. Some newspaper reports state that six million families will get a phone and 200 free minutes.
The BJP described the freebie as a desperate attempt to seek favour among voters ahead of the general elections in 2014. "First, electricity should be provided to people in villages. Without electricity, what is the use of free mobile phones?" asked BJP leader Balbir Punj. "The government has not been able to implement any scheme without corruption," he added.
However, ahead of the 2009 elections, the BJP 's "Vision Document" had considered giving smart phones to families below the poverty line.
Some within the government are reportedly concerned about families selling the cellphones, a concern shared by the telecom industry.
"Industry needs to be sure that the handset won't be sold," said Rajan Mathews of the Cellular Operators' Association of India. He also said that the infrastructure in rural areas makes the scheme problematic. "How will these families charge the phone? Do they have the capacity to recharge it after the first free 200 minutes are used?" he asked.