Free laptops for students: Kerala Govt bid to raise Rs 700 cr by crowdfunding crashes

Thiruvananthapuram: An ambitious project of the Kerala Government to pool an amount of Rs 700 crore from the public to buy laptops for free distribution among four lakh students could collect a mere Rs 2.99 crore.

This amount was received in the 'Vidyakiranam' portal of the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). Even though the government had so far not revealed the exact figures, the amount was mentioned by the Finance Department when KITE (Kerala Infrastructure and Technology for Education), an agency under the General Education Department, was entrusted with the task of inviting tenders to supply laptops.

The project was announced 10 months ago, but is yet to be implemented. Incidentally, the government had urged Keralites from all around the world to contribute to the portal and had claimed to have attracted a big response.

Soon after the project was announced, the state IT Mission had invited tenders to supply laptops. However, the process was soon called off after a dispute cropped up over the pricing. The issue was raised in the State Assembly, but the government initiated no measures to resume the tender procedures. According to the government, there was confusion over whether the IT Mission or KITE should conduct the tender.

After several months, the government announced that KITE would be given the task. However, the official order in this regard was issued after yet another couple of months, which was in March this year. Even then, the order of the Education Department did not mention the amount available to purchase laptops.

Earlier, the Principal Secretaries in charge of the Departments of Education and NORKA (Non-Resident Keralites Affairs) had made efforts to collect the amount promised by various persons through the CMDRF portal. But, there was not much progress.

Subsequently, the Finance Department informed the Education Department and KITE that only Rs 2.99 crore was received and laptops for this amount could be bought.

Sometime ago, KITE had distributed 477 laptops to students utilizing Rs 85 lakh donated by private and public sector firms from their CSR fund. At that time, the cost of a single laptop was fixed at Rs 18,250. At this price, only 1,640 laptops can be purchased for Rs 2.99 crore, while four lakh were announced by the government. In order to the take forward the project, a technical committee of KITE will soon decide the specifications and quantity of the laptops to be bought.

Apart from the 477 laptops given away utilizing CSR funds, the government had also distributed 45,313 laptops under the 'Vidyakiranam' project. However, these laptops were received as part of ‘Vidyasree’, an earlier project that was later abandoned.

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