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Uncertainty Around The Future Of The Aakash Tablet

There is much speculation about the future of the Aakash Tablet, and there almost appears to be a media battle in progress, with different publications reporting:

– The Economic Times reports, quoting an unnamed government official, involved  with the National Mission for Education through ICT Fund, under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, that the Indian Government has decided to take future tendering and procurement for it’s dream project, the Aakash Tablet, away from IIT Rajasthan and hand over the charge to a public sector undertaking. The reason? A public sector firm might be more capable of handling tenders since the process involves large sums of money and handling vendors.

This report comes after reports of a spat between Data Wind, the company which was assigned the contract for making 100,000 tablets at a price of $35, and IIT Rajasthan.

The Times of India had earlier reported that the IIT was apparently not happy with the quality of the first tranche of 70,000 tablets (no surprises there) and had suggested a stricter testing standard including testing for conditions like water resistance. DataWind had claimed that the test specs were different from the specs mentioned in the original tender, and that a military standard tablet was not feasible at a low price. It is also reported that Data Wind had not received a payment from IIT Rajasthan for 10,000 tablets.

India Today had reported that the Aakash tablet project was being shelved and the Indian Government was not extending the letter of credit (LC) to Data Wind.

The Hindustan Times then reported that HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal had informed, that the Government was indeed receiving 70,000 upgraded tablets from the company by the end of January. The report also added that the Government was not happy with the company’s decision to sell the tablet in the open market before completing the order. There’s much ambiguity if the firm will indeed upgrade the specs for the next tranche of the tablet or not.

The Economic Times, meanwhile reports quoting HRD Ministry sources that the Government wants to involve three more IITs , namely IIT Mumbai, IIT Madras and IIT Kanpur in the Aakash Project. The aim is to indigenize the tablet upto 90%. It is slightly conflicting since the Government has reportedly taken the responsibility away from IIT Rajasthan.

The Hindustan Times published a story about a meeting between public sector companies and HRD & Telecom Minister, Kapil Sibal that was held on Wednesday, where the Minister asked PSUs such as the ITI (Indian Telephone Industries), to participate in the bid to supply Aakash 2 tablets from April 2012, in an effort to revive them.

Our take: Is this lack of planning, lack of foresight, or just an excuse: why did the Government make IIT Rajasthan responsible for procurement in the first place, if it was not confident that the institution would be able to handle it? Judging by reviews, the Aakash tablet doesn’t appear to be up to scratch, and if IIT Rajasthan had raised objections, instead of looking into the matter and hauling up Data Wind for it, why is it trying to take procurement away from the IIT? Also, if there have been so many issues, were there issues in the selection process that led to Data Wind being for procurement? Who were the other contenders? There needs to be more rigorous in-lab testing of prototypes sourced from various vendors, before awarding contracts, and bringing the tablet in the hands of students. Also, why just emphasize on the cost part? If the tablet isn’t worth using, the cost hardly matters. A $35 paperweight won’t help anyone.

(with inputs from Nikhil Pahwa)

Our Complete Coverage of the Aakash Project:
Dec 15, 2011: Aakash Tablet Available Online for Rs 2500; Ubislate 7 in Jan 2012
November 2, 2011: What They’re Saying About The Aakash Tablet
October 5, 2011: Indian Govt’s $35 Tablet Finally Launches As Aakash; Costs Rs 2250
Sep 29, 2011: Indian Govt Expected To Launch $35 Tablet On 5th October
Jan 20, 2011: $35 Laptop Still A Distant Dream; HCL’s Tender Cancelled: Report
Sep 10, 2010: The Truth about $35 Android Tablet from Indian Government(AndroidOS.in)
Sep 03, 2010: HCL Wins Contract For 100,000 $35 Tablets For India
Aug 12, 2010: India To Distribute 1 Million Units Of Its $35 Tablet In 2011; Demo
Aug 09, 2010: OLPC India Now Targets 1M XOs In 2010; Negroponte Writes About $35 Tablet
Jul 23, 2010: India Government Develops $35 Tablet; What Can It Do? Features, How It Was Built
Feb 04, 2009: The $10 Laptop: A Myth

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