Amid controversy over parts of the Aakash tablet being made in China, CEO of its manufacturing firm said he is “proud” that certain components of the low-cost tablet were sourced from Beijing as he dismissed the controversy over the issue as “sensationalism“.
The Aakash2 tablet, hailed as an example of Indian innovation, was unveiled at the U.N. headquarters by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday on the occasion of India’s Presidency of the Security Council.
The $40 tablet ran into controversy after reports surfaced that parts of the device, like the motherboard, were manufactured in China and only the final assembly and programming was done in India.
The made-in-China controversy caught up with Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli as he presented the tablet to the U.N. chief and spoke in detail about the potential of Aakash to significantly alter the Indian education landscape.
“Over the last 72 hours I have dealt with this controversy that the Aakash tablet is not 100 per cent made in India. Why is that a controversy,” Mr. Tuli said in response to questions about certain components of the tablet sourced globally.
He said certain parts of the Aakash2 tablet were secured globally, including the touchscreen which was manufactured in Canada, motherboards and kitting from China and the final assembly and programming in India.
“Parts of the tablet are made in different parts of the world. I am proud that the motherboard and kitting is done in China. I am proud that we are setting up six manufacturing facilities in India with six different partners,” Mr. Tuli said.
The India-born chief of Datawind said the controversy exists because he was the only proponent who had proposed that the tablet be made locally.
“Because I have been a big proponent of local manufacturing, that is why this controversy exists. China and India are neighbours. China is part of the global community. In my mind there is no controversy, all that there is is sensationalism,” Mr. Tuli said.
Mr. Tuli termed the Aakash tablet as a story not just of Indian innovation, but “a story of global innovation led by India, an idea that the Indian government decided to aggressively implement.” Datawind had said that for the first 10,000 units for IIT, and for the sake of “expediency”, the motherboards and kits were manufactured in its Chinese subcontractor’s facilities.
The units were ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers while the final assembly and programming happened in India. Mr. Tuli said “too much is being made” about the sourcing of parts from China.
“If the customer does not have any objection to it, why should anybody else have any objection to it. We are the ones who have been pushing everybody to make more of the tablet in India. People who doubt that this can be done in India should not have an inferiority complex,” he added.
“We need to focus on the opportunity that exists. Just because some components were made in China to get started should not cause anybody any great concern,” Mr. Tuli said.
He added that it may not be possible to manufacture the entire tablet solely in India as certain components need to be procured from different parts of the world.
“Greater effort needs to be made for local manufacturing,” he said.
India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Hardeep Singh Puri, who organised the launch of the tablet at the world body, said when the Indian government had floated the global tender for the tablet, there was not any stipulation that it had to be made entirely in India.
“No where does it say this is an Aakash 2 tablet made in India exclusively or even partially. It is a very poor attempt at orchestrating a controversy when you realise that the Aakash 2 was going to be showcased in New York,” Mr. Puri said.
China’s Ambassador to the U.N. Li Baodong also attended the event with Mr. Puri saying his Chinese counterpart came for the launch of the tablet “to show his solidarity.”
Mr. Puri said he decided to utilise India’s presidency to showcase the tablet only after getting confirmation that President Pranab Mukherjee would be unveiling the tablet in India on November 11.
The chief of Datawind added that the product is being made at a price that no one had thought would be possible and as time goes by, “we will manufacture more in India.”
“I wish those people who are unhappy with it can show me the 100 per cent Indian-made products they use,” Mr. Tuli said, adding that the computers on which reports of parts of Aakash being sourced from China were being written also have been made in China. He said that India’s first touchscreen panel plant is being set up in Amritsar and it is expected to be fully functional within the next 30 days with an initial capacity of three million units.
Once the plant becomes operational, touchscreens which are currently manufactured in Canada would be made in India.
“We are big believers in local manufacturing and in vertical integration of manufacturing. We believe that over time, within the next year as the touchscreen manufacturing happens in India, the motherboards will also be made in India. China and other countries around the world will play a role in providing components and other value adds to the product. This is a global story,” he said.
Mr. Tuli added that he is targeting to bring down the price of the tablet from $40 to $25 in the next 18 months. “Nobody thought it was possible to build a tablet PC in this price range. This requires a form of frugal innovation that is unique to India and developing countries. Frugal innovation does not mean creating an iPad killer. It is about creating an iPad for the ‘rickshaw-wala’ and for the mass of the market,” he said.