Poverty, lack of access to service centres have led to many selling devices for Rs. 7,000 - Rs. 12,000

When free laptops were given to students of schools and colleges here, they were told the machines would be a window to a new world of knowledge. For many students however, they were just another object to be sold for some extra money.

Many college officials say they have come across reports of students trying to sell their laptops. T. Subramani, a lecturer at a polytechnic college that was one of the first to receive the laptops says the officials in the college realised that some students were selling away their laptops, when one of their third-year students was caught carrying three laptops. “Since laptops were given to students who immediately graduated, we could not take much action. But now, we keep asking students regularly.”

Dealers at a street famous for its electronics shops say they have been careful with the sale of the free laptops. “With Chinese spare parts available in plenty, there is no market for spares. The laptops have to be sold in full, and these free laptops have the logo of the chief minster. Even the components are serially numbered; so the deals are made through contacts,” says R. Manivannan, a dealer.

“We get bulk orders from a group of students, mostly from the same college or same area. They are sold at Rs. 7,000 — Rs. 12,000. We sell them back to known dealers here for Rs. 3,000 — Rs. 4,000 extra. The highest rush was in June when many colleges received the laptops. Each piece was going at Rs. 5,000,” says P. Johnson, another dealer.

“Because of frequent raids , the machines are never brought to market but picked up from other places or even from homes,” he adds. Many parents too have approached him with offers to sell laptops. “Many of these graduates don’t have jobs and their families are in a poor state. One father sold his laptop when his son was away, saying he was just watching movies in it with his friends.”

The State government’s ambitious free laptop scheme, under which 68 lakh laptops would be distributed to students started on September 15, 2011. It is applicable to students of government-aided higher secondary schools, arts and science colleges, engineering colleges and polytechnic colleges. The whole project entails a cost of Rs. 10,200 crore.

Many dealers feel lack of access to service centres is also a reason why students chose to sell their laptops. “The laptops were loaded with so much educational content, many educational games too. But many students did not know how to access them. Some did not even know how to change the default language from Tamil to English,” says a dealer.

“We approached many students who had come to the service centre of a particular manufacturer. Some accepted the deals outright,” he adds.

Dealers say the touchpad in many laptops was not working and sometimes, students were not able to download anything. Frequently, they did not know what to do when the system could not boot. “These require only basic settings changes in the drivers. But the students were not aware of them,” Mr. Manivannan adds.

The laptops were given to first and third year students in polytechnic and arts colleges and to second and final-year students in engineering colleges. This year, the graduating students in arts and science colleges will get them.

Officials at the higher education department said they have received reports of the misuse of laptops. “We are instructing colleges to ask students to compulsorily bring their laptops to classrooms every day.,” an official said.