Datawind, the makers of the low-cost Aakash 2, has refuted claims made by a media report that the tablet is a cheap Chinese import and not Indian. A report carried by Hindustan Times had alleged that Datawind founders and NRI brothers Suneet and Raja Singh Tuli ‘may have procured these devices off-the-shelf from manufacturers in China' for $42 (Rs 2,263 then), exactly the price at which they sold these to the Indian government.
The report further added that Datawind bought more than 10,000 or more ‘A 13’ made-in-China tablets from at least four manufacturers in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The company’s Indian manufacturing partners in Hyderabad, Delhi, and Amritsar had not played any part in the manufacturing process.
The UK based company that has been authorised to supply Aakash 2 denied this report, calling it ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate'. CEO Suneet Singh Tuli insists that the tablets are built in India, including all circuit boards, which are made in Hyderabad.
Aakash 2: Indian or Chinese?
Tuli further added that Datawind had the motherboards and kits of the first 10,000 units for IIT manufactured in its Chinese subcontractor’s facilities for the sake of expediency. The units had been ‘kitted’ at various manufacturers in China, whereas the final assembly and programming had happened in India. Tuli said that Datawind had won approval for this prior to its shipping.
The major difference between Aakash 1 and 2 is the latter’s capacitive touchscreen that Tuli reveals has been manufactured in the company’s Montreal facility and assembled in China. Datawind is setting up its second touchscreen facility in India, which it hopes will be up and running by another month.
“The initial devices were assembled and programmed at our facilities in New Delhi and Amritsar. We finished this batch of 10,000 units and delivered them to IIT and will be starting another batch of 20,000 units for them in two weeks,” said Tuli, adding that the media were welcome to visit when they were making this batch. “We also have four partner manufacturers across India that will work on the deliveries to the government but we just couldn't get them started to assemble our new Aakash 2 units in time but they will start to ship early in December.”
Commissioned by Government of India’s Human Resource Development, the ambitious Aakash project has hit several roadblocks since its inception. Aakash 1 had been shrouded in controversy with several delays and issues with its quality. Later, Datawind and its erstwhile assembly partner Quad Electronics Solutions parted ways, and the company's strained relations with manufacturer VMC resulted in delays that pushed the shipping of Aakash 2 to December.
Aakash 1 was built by Datawind with IIT-Rajasthan overlooking the production. The MHRD slapped a showcause notice to the institute over its failure to set up a timely tablet testing facility and procedure, along with the institute's failure to ease differences with Datawind. Cracks had appeared between the two over production values in the beginning itself with IIT-R seeking military-style specifications, like water-resistance, shock-resistance etc. Datawind stood its ground on making the Aakash tablet an affordable tablet with the basic specifications.
While Tuli insists this latest controversy is ‘a desperate attempt by somebody to sabotage the image of India’, whether or not this affects the sale of Aakash 2 is something only time will tell.
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