Controversies have continued to chase India’s ambitious ultra low-cost tablet PC, the Aakash 2. According to reports on the web, the ‘revolutionary’ device aimed at bridging the digital divide in the country is actually a cheap ‘Made in China’ device, and has been embellished with some applications from IIT Bombay. Questions are being raised whether the Aakash 2 is a true Indian innovation.
Economic Times in its report claims DataWind, the company assigned to design, develop and manufacture the Aakash tablet, procured about 12,000 devices A-13 model designed by AllWinner Tech of China. The supplier was finalised by IIT-Bombay, which is also implementing the Aakash project. The report says the procurement took place shortly before the Aakash 2 was officially launched.
The Chinese tablets cost about $42 (around Rs. 2,310) per unit, and were purchased from firms such as Kalong Technology Co., Ltd, Dasen International Electronics Co Ltd, Trend Grace and Shenzhen Shetong Zhaoli Co Ltd. The report points out that IIT Bombay issued a certificate dated October 29 for importing 20,000 units in India, and sought a waiver of duty as they were meant for school students under an HRD ministry programme – days before the Aakash 2 was launched.
According to the report, DataWind didn’t design or manufacture the Aakash 2 tablets. DataWind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli has refuted the charges and claimed his company had designed the Aakash 2. "For the first 10,000 units for IIT, and for expediency sake we had the motherboards manufactured in one of our Chinese subcontractor’s facilities And then the units have been ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers for expediency, whereas the final assembly and programming has happened in India. We finished this batch of 10,000 units and delivered them to IIT and will be starting another batch of 20,000 units for them in two weeks," Hindustan Times quotes Tuli as saying.
Clarifying reports of the Aaksh 2 not being an Indian device, Tuli told website PKR, “Our business model is similar to that of Apple where we use subcontract manufacturers to build our products. So, these are built in facilities of our contractors. For the first 10k units for IIT, and for expediency sake we had the motherboards and kits manufactured in our Chinese subcontractor’s facilities, and then the units have been ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers for expediency, whereas the final assembly and programming has happened in India.”
The government hasn’t made any official statement on the controversies surrounding the Aakash 2. However, the ET in its report quotes a senior government official involved in the project as saying he was unaware whether the products were off the shelf tablets from China. IIT Bombay has also not responded on the issue yet.
One of the prime reasons behind DataWind choosing to manufacture the Aakash 2 tablets in China is believed to be its rift with its Indian partner VMC Systems, which was supposed to assemble the device in Hyderabad. It is learnt that VMC had halted shipments over non-payment of dues. The Aakash project is no stranger to controversies. The project has been stalled various times in the past for a number of reasons. The original Aakash tablet was rejected over poor specifications whereas standoff between DataWind and IIT Rajasthan also delayed the project. At one stage it looked like the Aakash 2 will never see the light of the day. Read Aakash 2 tablet: Outdated even before launch? and Indians sceptical about Aakash 2 launch; want to see it to believe it