Javadekar-led HRD Min Gives a New Lease of Life to UPA-Era Aakash Tablet

To of­fer up­graded Aakash 2 tablets as re­ward to stu­dents who helped push govt’s digi­ti­sa­tion agenda

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

NA­TIONAL CON­VEN­TION

New Delhi: The Aakash tablet is set to spring back to life about two years af­ter the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment pulled the plug on the project launched by its pre­de­ces­sor amid com­plaints over the qual­ity of the low-cost de­vice en­vis­aged to pro­vide vi­able ed­u­ca­tion to stu­dents across the coun­try. The Prakash Javadekar-led hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment min­istry has de­cided to of­fer up­graded Aakash 2 tablets as re­ward to stu­dent vol­un­teers who helped push the gov­ern­ment’s digi­ti­sa­tion agenda post-de­mon­eti­sa­tion. “There will be a na­tional con­ven­tion of the se­lected best vol­un­teers in which we pro­pose to honour 250 na­tional level best vol­un­teers. There is a pro­posal to award them with tablet PCs de­vel­oped by IIT Bom­bay,” the HRD min­istry said in re­sponse to ET’s queries.

The na­tional con­ven­tion is likely to be held in March, of­fi­cials said.

They said the min­istry will fe­lic­i­tate stu­dent vol­un­teers from across in­sti­tutes in­volved in its Vit­tiya Sak­sharta Ab­hiyan or fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy cam­paign, which was launched to en­gage with young­sters and stu­dents across higher ed­u­ca­tion in­stitu- tions to ac­tively mo­ti­vate all pay­ers and pay­ees to use a dig­i­tal pay­ment sys­tem to as­sist in the “trans­for­ma­tional shift” in the coun­try post-de­mon­eti­sa­tion. About 343,000 vol­un­teers reg­is­tered un­der the cam­paign. The gover nment had on Novem­ber 8 last year an­nounced with­drawal of old ₹ 500 and ₹ 1,000 notes as le­gal ten­der. On di­rec­tions from the min­istry, the heads of the in­sti­tu­tions have been se­lect­ing the best vol­un­teers on the ba­sis of the work they have done. The min­istry said it has so far got re­ports of 10,000 such vol­un­teers se­lected by the in­sti­tu­tions. All th­ese vol­un­teers will be fe­lic­i­tated with cer­tifi­cates at the in­sti­tu­tion level while the best vol­un­teers on the na­tional level will be gifted with Aakash 2 tablets.

On pos­si­bil­ity of re­viv­ing the Aakash tablet project, how­ever, the min­istry said in its re­sponse, “There is no such plan at this stage.”

While PM Modi was ini­tially ex­pected to fe­lic­i­tate the best vol­un­teers on the na­tional lev- el, the PMO later de­clined due to the shift of fo­cus from dig­i­tal pay­ment sys­tems to other as­pects that have emerged post­de­mon­eti­sa­tion, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

The Aakash tablet, which was to be made avail­able to stu­dents in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes across the coun­try, had made head­lines glob­ally when the then HRD min­is­ter Kapil Sibal an­nounced its launch in 2011 at a sub­sidised price of ₹ 1,130.

The world’s cheap­est tablet proved a non-starter, though, with the first lot of de­vices termed rather sub­stan­dard by users. IIT Jodh­pur, which was orig­i­nally han­dling the con­tract, and the Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer Datawind got into a se­ri­ous con­flict over the test­ing of the tablet, forc­ing the min­istry to in­ter­vene and trans­fer the project to IIT Bom­bay. The PMO at the time, too, flagged con­cerns over the min­istry’s draft cab­i­net note that pro­posed a ₹ 700-crore project un­der t h e Nat i o n a l Mis­sion of Ed­u­ca­tion through ICT to in­vite bids for 5 mil­lion Aakash 2 tablets. Wary of an­other pos­si­ble em­bar­rass­ment, the PMO sug­gested that the min­istry test the tablet’s “per­for­mance and vi­a­bil­ity in the mar­ket” be­fore im­ple­ment­ing the pro­posal.

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