The Pallam Raju led Human Resource Development Ministry has, after much contemplation, decided to back the Aakash tablet project. The HRD Ministry will now move a Cabinet note seeking approval for procuring over 22 lakh Aakash 4 tablets, officials confirmed.
Estimated to cost over Rs 330 crore, the 22 lakh 47 thousand tablets are proposed to be procured through the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D) — a central government purchase and quality assurance organisation — that will conclude rate contracts for the low-cost tablet.
The ministry proposes that in the first phase, the $35 Aakash 4 tablets will be given to engineering institutes which will be directly bought from vendors empanelled by the DGS&D. The cost of the tablet will be borne on 50:50 basis by the HRD ministry-backed National Mission for Education through Information Communication Technology (NMEICT) and the concerned educational institution.
Once acquired, the tablets will be the property of the educational institution that will ‘issue’ the tablets to its students much like a library book. The technical specifications for Aakash 4 have been worked out by a committee constituted by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
The new Cabinet note will replace the original proposal in 2010 which had sought approval for a Rs 700 crore project to provide 100 personal computers — largely for faculty — to higher education institutes.
Earlier this year, Raju had expressed doubts about going ahead with the project and the much awaited tenders for 5 million tablets, in view of delivery and testing controversies. The ministry had constituted two committees to review the project and was to take a final view on the basis of these reports. Only one of these committees — headed by Prof Goverdhan Mehta — had submitted its report on the issue and it had firmly backed the tablet.
Announced with great fan fare, the android tablet has been mired in controversy from the start. The project was first given to IIT Rajasthan, but differences between the IIT and Canadian manufacturer Datawind made the HRD ministry hand over the project to IIT Bombay.