Indian State Starts to Give Away Free Laptops to Students in Controversial Plan

By Ed Silverstein September 15, 2011

Tamil Nadu, a state in India, this week started a massive plan where it will give $2 billion worth of laptops to students in government schools and colleges for free, according to media reports. The AFP said the plan will take five years. But when complete, nearly 7 million students will get the free laptops.

Some 900,000 students will get the laptops during the first year. The first computers given out included 6,600 laptops purchased from Acer and Hewlett-Packard

Not everyone is impressed. It was called a “vote-buying ploy” by critics. The critics claim the money is “better spent on social welfare schemes,” the AFP said.

In fact, a lawyer in the state’s capital city, Chennai, asked the Supreme Court to block the laptop distribution claiming it was “bribery” and a misuse use of government funds, the AFP said. The laptops are valued at $292 each, according to a report from the BBC.

The BBC also reported that critics allege Tamil Nadu experiences frequent power shortages so students may not be able to use the laptops when they want. Critics also claim the laptops have only simple software not meant for college students – a complaint rejected by state officials, the BBC added.

Undeterred, J. Jayalalitha, chief minister of Tamil Nadu and a former movie actress, defended the plan. “The sole aim is to make people economically independent,” she was quoted saying by the AFP. “No one should trivialize it.”

The state government is also distributing free electric fans, food mixers, goats and cows to tens of thousands of poor families in Tamil Nadu.

“Those who know economics will not agree with the denigration of the schemes as freebies, as the welfare measures will raise the standards of living of the poor; enable all to get everything; and help the people to stand on their own and become economically well off,” Jayalalitha was quoted by The Hindu newspaper.

In a related matter, TechZone360 reported recently that the “digital divide” seen in India is the most pronounced among its peer nations, according to a recent study.

Research from Maplecroft showed that India fell behind the other BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia and China when it comes to digital inclusion, TechZone360 added.

Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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