Bhubaneswar: Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Tuesday distributed 5,000 mobile phone sets among farmers while launching the scheme. "The farmers can access the market information related to agriculture through the mobile phones," Patnaik said, adding that they would get voice calls and SMS in Odia language. Inaugurating the Digital Bazaar programme at Exhibition ground in Bhubaneswar, Patnaik said about 15,000 beneficiaries will get the free phones in the first phase at district levels soon. Farmers having Kissan Credit Cards are entitled to get this facility.
"We aim to cover all the farmers in the state under this scheme," secretary cooperation B Sethi said. The state government has consulted service provider Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to send free voice SMSs related to market prices of agriculture produce and fertilisers and weather condition among other information. The state government has already allocated Rs 2 crore for the scheme in the 2013-14 budget. However, opposition Congress and BJP strongly criticised the scheme.
"Naveen Babu has distributed free mobile phones to the ruling BJD workers and supporters. The beneficiaries are actually BJD workers and not real farmers," alleged Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Jaydev Jena. "This (free mobile phone) is yet another election gimmick by the Chief Minister. This came after free umbrella, blanket and bicycle for voters," Jena accused. BJP state general secretary Suresh Pujari accused the Chief Minister and the ruling BJD president of bribing voters before elections.
Cooperation Minister BK Arusk, however, rejected the opposition's allegation by saying that the state government had already announced about the free mobile scheme in the 2013-14 budget. "Free mobile for farmers has nothing to do with elections and politics," Arusk claimed.