Akhilesh govt logs out free laptop scheme for 2017 polls

In this file photo, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference after inauguration of the Uttar Pradesh Pavilion at the 35th India International Trade Fair (IITF-2015) at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.

The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) government in Uttar Pradesh helmed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has virtually shunned the free laptop scheme in run up to the 2017 elections.

The scheme was largely credited with scripting the stupendous performance by SP in 2012 polls to dislodge the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government from power in the state. SP had then emerged as the largest party with 224 seat in the 403 member UP legislative assembly, trouncing BSP as runner-up with 80 seats.

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While, the Akhilesh government distributed the free laptops during its first year in office, the subsequent years saw the scheme knocked off its priority list.

The final nail came when the ruling SP faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of Narendra Modi led-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Senior SP leaders had claimed the laptops distributed by Akhilesh were used extensively in Modi's election campaigns in UP.

During 2012-13, Akhilesh had made budgetary provision of about Rs 2,800 crore for the free laptop scheme. However, there had been no financial support during the 2013-14 and 2014-15. However, the scheme has not been discontinued fully, but exists for namesake.

During 2015-16 and 2016-17, the state committed budgetary provision of Rs 100 crore for each financial year for giving free laptop to 'meritorious' students passing standard X and XII.

In June 2015, the government had decided to give free laptops to 39,600 meritorious students who had passed class X and XII. The cabinet had further fixed quota in the scheme with 20 per cent and 21 per cent laptops reserved for minorities and SC/ST students respectively.

The laptop scheme was primarily aimed at serving two purposes when it was announced in the SP manifesto by party chief Malayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow on January 20, 2012. It was targetted to garner the vote of youth and first time voters and also to help party shed its 'perceived' anti-English and anti-computer image.

SP had promised to provide free tablets and laptops to students passing standard X and XII respectively, if voted to power.

Soon after coming to power, the Akhilesh government had floated a global tender and selected tech major HP to supply 1.5 million laptops for distribution to students passing during the 2011-12 academic session.

Although, the UP cabinet on January 23, 2013, had picked HP for the supply of 1.5 million laptops to students, the actual distribution started on March 11, 2013 with Yadav himself distributing free laptops to nearly 10,000 students in Lucknow. Similar public functions were later held at the district levels in the state to distribute the gadget.

The distribution had also faced hitches, including delays, inadequate supplies, malfunctioning machines, improper warehousing resulting in damage etc. There were allegations and counter allegations as well between HP and the government over issues of supplies and payments.

The free tablet scheme could never materialise due to lack of interest amongst suppliers reportedly over commercial viability.