A note on the ambitious Aakash-2 project to be placed before the Cabinet soon

In a move that will give a big push to broadband penetration in the country, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has cleared an ambitious plan to distribute 50-lakh tablet PCs (personal computers) to students in the next financial year (2012-13). A note containing the nitty-gritty of the ambitious Aakash-2 project is likely to be placed before the Cabinet soon.

“Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who is also in charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry, has already held a detailed meeting with all stakeholders… the Cabinet note is being finalised,” said a senior DoT official. “We plan to distribute 50-lakh tablet PCs in schools and colleges across India in the next fiscal.”

The government wants to initially assemble the tablet PCs through its public sector undertakings (PSUs) and eventually indigenise it to maintain cost-competitiveness.

The DoT has declared that the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), the research and design wing of the Department of Information Technology, will be the nodal agency for successfully implementing the Aakash-2 project. It will be assisted by the Indian Institute of Technology-Mumbai. They will be responsible for finalising specifications, ensuring quality and testing the tablet PCs. The DoT has decided to rope in two PSUs — Bharat Electronics Ltd and ITI Ltd — for manufacturing and procuring the tablet PCs that will be priced between $55 and $70 (around Rs.2,750 and Rs.3,500).

As the project cost is likely to be around Rs.1,700 crore, it has also been decided to involve the BEL, the electronic PSU under the Ministry of Defence with factories around India. “The BEL is likely to be asked to manufacturer the feature-rich tablet PCs and take help from ITI Ltd, India's first PSU that manufactures telecom equipments, to meet the huge orders. It is has also been decided to source tablet PCs from other companies through the tendering process if the two PSUs fail to meet the orders,” the official noted.

Mr. Sibal had unveiled the world's cheapest tablet PC Aakash last year that cost just $35 (about Rs.1,750), manufactured by Canadian firm Datawind in close association with IIT-Jodhpur. Though the government had decided to distribute 1 lakh Aakash tablets to students in the first phase, quality issues and poor features forced the government to intervene. Moreover, Datawind also failed to meet its delivery commitments and has so far only given 10,000 tablets.