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
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.