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Free laptop scheme on sleep mode

The distribution of laptops had to be stopped in 2020 due to a worldwide pandemic-induced lockdown. And now, fund crunch in acquiring the required configuration has the scheme in a limbo

Free laptop scheme on sleep mode

Students with laptop

CHENNAI: The fate of Tamil Nadu government’s free laptop scheme for the students is still unknown. However, the number of beneficiaries waiting to avail the scheme has increased to over 20 lakh.

The free laptop scheme was a pet project of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, and it was launched in 2011-2011.

The beneficiaries are students of Class 12 in government schools, and students of all government colleges and State-owned polytechnic institutions.

Under the scheme, 51.67 lakh laptop computers have been distributed for free to students at Rs 7,257.61 crore from 2011-12 to 2019-2020 in 6 phases.

However, the distribution came to a grinding halt in 2020, as the State government could not procure them due to the COVID-induced lockdown.

Students who received the free laptops in 2019 found them useful especially after online classes became the norm for the next couple of years. It was also used for admissions in online higher education during the pandemic.

A senior official from the Higher Education Department told DT Next that the then AIADMK government had floated an international bid in 2020-2021 to procure 5 lakh laptops at Rs 950 crore, which comes to about Rs 19,000 per system.

“But the tender was cancelled due to technical reasons that includes non-availability of laptops in the international market as the production was halted due to the pandemic,” he added.

After the DMK came to power, authorities were planning to float another tender to purchase laptops for distribution and clear the backlog. “However, the required configuration for the laptops was not available in the international market at the time,” he added.

Pointing out that the last time, the laptops, which were purchased in 2018 was around Rs 19,000 per piece, the official said: “Now, the prices have doubled. Even for bulk purchases, even after reduction, the prices will be higher.

The State government has not scrapped the scheme but financial crunch is the main reason to have put it on hold for a while.”

The official also claimed that even if the State government decided to implement the scheme, it would cost the exchequer around Rs 4,000 crore (if the laptop was purchased for Rs 19,000 per piece).

“Perhaps, the State government is expected to float an international bid after analysing the financial situation. The whole tender process – from floating till purchase – will take a minimum of 4-5 months,” he elaborated.

“The Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT), under the IT department, is the nodal agency to procure laptops in the international markets.”

Stating that several enquiries had poured in from students and parents a year ago, the official stated it had dwindled in the past few months.

“Now, only a few enquiries are coming to the department. A few lakh students, who did not get the free laptops, have already left the institution and got into various jobs,” he pointed out.

“Authorities were planning alternatives including the distribution of free electronic tablets instead of laptops, as there will not be a huge price difference between both products.”

R Sathyanarayana
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