Odisha gives free cellphones to 5,000 farmers

Bhubaneswar, June 18 (IANS) Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Tuesday distributed free mobile phones to thousands of farmers here as part of his government's efforts to empower the farming community with latest technology, an official said.

The chief minister distributed the cellphones to 5,000 farmers at a special function organised by the government. The farmers would receive agriculture-related information from the government via SMS and voice calls, an official of Patnaik's office told IANS.

The government will also send farmers prices of agriculture products, weather updates and other information, he said.

Farmers who have Kishan credit cards are eligible to get free cell phones from the government. The government would provide such phones to 15,000 more farmers in next few days, he said.

The opposition Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state separately described the move as political and said it was an attempt to win the heart of the farming community ahead of the 2014 general elections.

"The chief minister distributed the cell phones keeping an eye on the upcoming election. Those who got the cellphones are mostly workers of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), state Congress president Jayadeb Jena told reporters. "It was a political move" senior BJP leader Surama Padhi said.

The state's rural development and cooperation minister Bikram Keshari Arukh refuted the allegation and said the distribution of cell phones has nothing to do with politics. "It will empower the farming community," he said.

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