Six months after ministry of human resources and development formally launched Aakash tablet, barely a few hundred units have reached the hands of students. The manufacturing of the device has been stopped and now the ministry and Datawind, the manufacturer of the tablet, are focusing on Aakash 2, an upgraded version of the tablet.
Datawind concedes Aakash tablet, which is supposed to digitize the way students study in India, has not been a success in its first version. But it squarely blames IIT Rajasthan, the nodal agency overlooking the project, for the fiasco, saying the concerns over the tablet’s quality and functionality were overblown by the institute in a bid to “favour other firms” .
Datawind’s CEO, Suneet Singh Tuli, told TOI that after winning the bid to manufacture Aakash tablet with a cost of $49.98 for each unit, the company had supplied 10000 tablets to IIT Rajasthan. The units were part of an initial order of 1,00,000 tablets. As soon as few hundred tablets reached students as part of pilot project, IIT Rajasthan started rejecting Aakash tablet, allegedly after reports that the device was failing during pilot testing and did not meet the quality criteria set by the institute.
Tuli, however, disagrees. “IIT Rajasthan was simply trying to defame us by saying that we could not meet the quality required by it,” he says. “When we were awarded the contract, there was only a specification sheet. But when we started supplying the tablets, IIT Rajasthan started rejecting the tablet based on biased and unscientific testing methodology. “
“IIT Rajasthan put up roadblocks. It jeopardized the whole project. I can say the dirty tricks by the institute put us around six months behind on the project … they did it because they were favouring other firms… Even now, the institute is trying to sabotage the project,” he adds.
There are reports that IIT Rajasthan has been issued a showcause notice by MHRD last month over the Aakash failure . The notice asks institute to explain why it did not set up a tablet testing facility and procedure in time and why it failed to resolve its dispute with Datawind. Incidentally , the institute also worked with Wishtel, a company that launched lowcost tablet called Ira last week. TOI tried contacting Prem K Kalra, director of IIT Rajasthan, over the email and phone but he wasn’t available.
Datawind says that after the fiasco, it had to take back the tablets supplied to IIT Rajasthan. “We have not been paid for a single one of them. But mission is more important to us… we believe in Aakash project,” says Tuli.
The company is now working on Aakash 2, an updated version of the original tablet. It will have a capacitive screen instead of resistive and hence support multi-touch . It will also have a better processor – based on Cortex A8.
“We are working with IIT Mumbai for Aakash 2 and will start supplying the tablet to government this month. Our original order for 1,00,000 units has been transferred for Aakash 2 now. After the order of 1,00,000 units is met, MHRD will invite bids for more tablets. We will bid again,” says Tuli. Kapil Sibal, minister of human resources and development, said that Aakash 2 will be available in May. Datawind also sells a commercial version of Aakash tablet called Ubislate. Tuli claims the firm has received over 3 million prebookings for Ubislate.