Days before the world's cheapest touch-screen tablet went on show at the United Nations in the presence of Secretary General Ban ki Moon, there have been controversial media reports that the Aakash 2 is actually a cheap import from China that has been cosmetically tweaked in India and then presented as its technology innovation. Sunil Singh Tuli, who is the CEO of Datawind, which won the contract to build the Aakash 2, rubbishes such reports and says, "This is truly a frugal innovation in India and this is why India should be proud and this is why it is being showcased at the UN today."
Mr Tuli says to call the Aakash an off-the-shelf, "made in China product" is wrong. "We have clarified that we have kitted these in China and we have done the entire assembling and programming in India. The touch screens are made by us and we have videos showing those facilities. For somebody to say this is an off-the-shelf product is totally wrong. If it is an off-the-shelf product, then supply one at the same price," he told NDTV.
Hardeep Puri, India's Ambassador to the UN, too justifies presenting Aakash 2 to the world as an Indian innovation. "Nowhere does it say that this is an Aakash 2 tablet that is 'made in India' exclusively or even partially. When the Government of India floated a tender, it was a global tender and I don't remember any such stipulations. It was a very poor attempt at orchestrating a controversy when you realise that Aakash 2 was being showcased in New York at the UN," Mr Puri says.
Mr Tuli too insists that at no time have they claimed that Aakash 2 is a "made in India" product. He says the Indian government did not stipulate for the Aakash to be made in India when Datawind was awarded the tender.
"The Indian government has said we have ordered a product, they did not specify where it should be made. The GOI is going to spend billions of dollars to equip all its kids with low-cost computing and internet access. We have recommended that the manufacturing should happen in India," he says, adding, "Yes, parts will come from China and other parts of the world. We should focus on trying to integrate more and more in India."
Mr Tuli says this is why a touch screen facility is being set up in Amritsar. "The fact that it gets kitted in China is really an attempt to demean India's value to the world, which is unfortunate. The reality still is that this is an Indian product made by Indians, for India, liberating education in India and Indians should be proud of that."
The Human Resource Development Ministry commissioned the Aakash 2 as an attempt to provide digital access to millions of students in small towns and villages across the country. It plans to make the tablet available to students at about Rs 1200, or 30 dollars, a fraction of, say, Apple's iPad and is expected to bring the Android or Mobile OS experience to India's poorest students.