Has Akhilesh’s free laptop scheme run into rough weather?

Lucknow, July 3 (IANS) An ambitious scheme to distribute free laptops and tablets to students who pass out of class 12 and class 10 pass in Uttar Pradesh may have run into rough weather, officials say.

Against the target of more than 15 lakh laptops to be distributed among students passing class 12, officials say, so far only 79,491 have been distributed under the scheme, which is accredited with contributing significantly to the victory of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the 2012 assembly polls.

Official sources cite frequent changes in the state secondary education department and the “dwindling interest of the state’s political leadership” in the project as the two main reasons behind the slow pace of the project.

In the last three months, the secondary education department has seen three secretaries – Parthasarthy Sen Sharma, Kamran Rizvi and now Devesh Chaturvedi.

“With the budget of the scheme being high, top officials are vary of signing on the dotted line and are simply not letting the files move,” a senior official who did not wish to be identified told IANS.

The Uttar Pradesh Electronics Corporation Limited (UPLC), the procurement agency for the laptops and tablets, has done its bit. But the secondary education department which is the nodal department for overseeing the distribution has been delaying the process, the official said.

According to officials, laptops have been distributed in 13 districts – Lucknow, Mainpuri, Hamirpur, Bareilly, Ghaziabad, Noida, Etawah, Farukkhabad, Firozabad, Varanasi, Chitrakoot, Mahoba and Banda.

However, they say that 3.15 lakh laptops delivered for distribution in 48 more districts are “now lying in godowns and stores” for want of finalisation of dates for distribution and also because of tardy administrative processes. Such districts include Jhansi, Kanpur city, Sambhal, Amroha, Balrampur, Barabanki, Gonda, Rampur, Agra and Kannauj.

Official sources claim that the laptop distribution has suffered because of tight schedules of political leaders including that of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. After a lull of several months, the distribution resumed in June with the last one made in Firozabad June 24.

District officials alleged that the chief minister’s secretariat has been sitting on the files for the last one week. “If we don’t get clearance on the availability of the chief minister how are we expected to proceed further,” questions an official.

The monsoon has also hit the scheme hard. “Many districts officials told us that they were not in a position to receive more computers as there is no place to store them,” a UPLC official said.

He added that by next week 4.15 lakh more laptops would be handed over to the state by Hewlett Packard (HP), the company which won the global tender.

“We are sending the UPLC all the laptops for which orders have been placed with us. As per our the agreement, all laptops would be supplied by September 15. We are on schedule,” said an HP representative, adding that payment of more than Rs.100 crore was kept pending and it took lot of effort by the UPLC officials to get it released.

The officials at HP are also worried about the losses in view of the eroding value of rupee in relation to the US dollar. “We are in for losses if the whole thing is not expedited,” concedes an HP official.

State government officials are also silent over the eight lakh odd laptops yet to be procured for free distribution in the state.

The state cabinet had approved the free laptop distribution scheme on Jan 23, 2013. More than 15 lakh laptops were to be distributed among class 12 pass outs throughout the state including those clearing exams conducted by UP Board, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE).

Besides laptops, 26 lakh computer tablets were also to be distributed among class 10 pass outs under the scheme.

Four firms — HP, HCL, Lenovo and Acer — participated in the bidding process for supplying laptops to the state government quoting their price as Rs.19,058 crore, Rs.21,983 crore, Rs.23,919 crore and Rs.25,199 crore, respectively.

The tender worth Rs.2,400 crore floated by the UP government to buy laptops was the world’s biggest such tender.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])

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