Tamil Nadu

Who got TN’s free laptops?

Since September 2011, the State government has given out over 21 lakh laptops free of cost to students. That number is set to go up to at least 30 lakh over the next year and a half.

Despite such staggering numbers, none of the government departments involved in the scheme has a comprehensive list of all the beneficiaries, though the government’s own policy note has claimed for the past four years that “an advanced software has been introduced for tracing the movement of benefits... and it integrates all facets of operation, including procurement and distribution.”

Responding to The Hindu ’s Right to Information request for the name, age, institution and other details of all beneficiaries, ELCOT claimed it is only a “procurement agency.” The Special Programme Implementation Department, whose sole purpose is monitoring flagship schemes, pointed fingers at the School and College Education Departments. They, in turn, forwarded the RTIs to every district in the State. Even many of the district-level offices, which responded, had no names and merely forwarded the information request to individual institutions under their supervision. Essentially, if the RTI responses are to be believed, there is no comprehensive beneficiary list.

Without such a list to begin with, any effort to detect diversion into the grey market is questionable at best, say experts.

“Without tracking beneficiaries, it is questionable whether the government is getting the best out of this investment,” said Nat Malupillai of the eGovernments Foundation. “Is there some intended outcome? Is it an increase in computer literacy? How is this going to be measured? Without capturing roll numbers and the student population along with some unique identifier, it is impossible to determine if the right people got the benefit and also how it is being used,” he said.

“We should be concerned. This is a significant issue from a governance standpoint,” Malupillai said. “Ideally, a list of all those, who benefited from a supposed welfare measure, should be released and NGOs or other entities be allowed to do a random audit. Just believing that good intentions will translate to positive outcomes is wishful thinking,” he said.

There are also other challenges such the lack of changes to the curriculum which make the laptops nearly useless in a classroom setting at the moment, says the Principal of a Government Arts College. “There is no scope for using the laptops in the classroom unless we have more smart classrooms.”

It is also true that monitoring or tracking beneficiaries is poor, he said, adding that there have been cases where students have sold the laptops for throwaway prices of Rs.4,000 to Rs. 5,000.

“But for students who come from households below the poverty level, owning a laptop itself is a mirage. They feel happy to hold one. The scheme has been a success in their case,” the Principal added.


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 12:20:56 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/who-got-tns-free-laptops/article6999363.ece