On 4 September, Rajasthan’s chief minister Vasundhara Raje announced the “Bhamashah Digital Parivar Yojana,” a scheme under which the state government would provide free mobile phones to help citizens access government services digitally. Money will be transferred to the bank accounts of families who are eligible under the National Food Security Act to enable them to purchase a smart phone and a data connection. The scheme was announced ahead of state assembly elections, which are due later this year. Soon after the announcement, the Congress accused the Rajasthan government of “bribing voters” with free smartphones using taxpayer money. According to an Indian Expressreport, around 1.03 crore families in Rajasthan are entitled to receive benefits under the NFSA. These families are part of Bhamashah—a scheme in Rajasthan under which the eldest woman in the family is issued a card that can be used to avail government services.
A review of the official government orders and my conversations with government officials suggest that one company is likely to benefit most from the scheme: Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.
In early September, the principal secretary of Rajasthan’s information technology and planning departments, Akhil Arora, sent a directive—a copy of which I accessed—to all district collectors, asking them to hold mobile-phone distribution camps in every block of the state, where the eligible citizens can purchase subsidised smart phones. Although the directive mentions that the scheme could be availed through “various mobile operators,” it only identifies one tie-up by name, through which the mobile phones are being made available at the government-facilitated camps—the “Jio Bhamashah Programme,” with Reliance Jio. The directive states, “Jio representatives, whose names and numbers are given in Annexure A, will be in touch with District Collectors.” No details regarding any representatives from other mobile operators are given in the directive. It adds further that at least two camps must be held in each block, from 1 September until the end of the month. The directive also states that the cost of the infrastructure for running the camps will be borne by the mobile operator.