The Centre will come out with a tender for procuring 50 lakh tablets to be distributed among students, next month. The government is likely to spend as much as Rs 1,650 crore to procure these tablets.
According to sources, the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) will invite an open tender by the end of February for procuring tablets with Cortex A-8 platform, which will have much better specifications compared to Aakash tablets.
In the first phase, the government had planned to give 1 lakh tablets to students. Accordingly, these are being supplied under the brand name "Aakash", by Datawind. The deal has come under flak as the company has failed to supply the entire lot so far.
A highly-placed source in the MHRD confirmed the move. "Yes, there is a plan," said the source. However, he refused to comment on the future participation of Datawind in the project.
When asked if Datawind would be allowed to bid, considering the company missed its deadline of December for the delivery of 1 lakh Aakash tablets to IIT-Bombay, he said, "The authorities at IIT-Bombay would be best placed to comment on Datawind's performance as they have been dealing with it (the company) directly." Project in-charge Deepak B. Pathak from IIT-Bombay expressed his inability to take questions, as he is currently in the United States.
It remains to be seen if Datawind would be interested in bidding for the new tender. The company has recently told a newspaper that the delivery of the tablets would take at least till March this year and that Aakash was no more a priority for it.
The move will give a big boost to the tablet industry, which is growing fast in the country. Besides the Centre, many state governments have promised to give tablets (another 50 lakh together) to students of their respective states. As per industry estimates, laptop users are converting to tablets gradually. The Uttar Pradesh government recently floated tenders for 2.6 million tablets. Others like Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Meghalaya have also decided to equip theirs students with the gadget. Besides, there is a huge increase in the demand in the open market.
"According to our estimates, India will have a demand of 30 million (3 crore) tablets by 2013 end for which we are gearing up ourselves," said Vijender Singh, managing director of Pantel Technologies, which has a data alliance with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). He said his company is also approaching other state governments for supply of tablets.