Indian state to give away 1.4 million free laptops

What’s the first thing you do after a thumping victory? Make good on the promises. Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister Jayalalitha is doing exactly that. She is making good of the promises made during the election. One of which is providing free laptops to pre-university students. 1.4 million of Tamil Nadu’s 11th and 12th grade students will be getting free laptops.

An order for 1.4 million laptops is up for grabs. Any laptop manufacturer who does business in India will be oogling such an opportunity.

Just how big is this 1.4 million laptop order?

Very big. 2.6 million personal computer (Laptops+desktops) were shipped to India in the first quarter of 2011. That would be 10.4 million computers per year. And Tamil Nadu government’s 1.4 million order is 13% of all India computer sales in a year. Just one state and one entity ordering it in one quarter is a pretty big thing. I am sure, no one manufacturer can meet this kind of order. Top guys like Dell, HP, Lenovo, HCL and Acer constitute 57% of the total market and probably will be taking big portions of this order.

Where will the money come from?

The order is worth 350 crores. One cannot possibly buy out 1.4 million laptops with Rs. 350 crores. Going by the current rates, a decent laptop would cost Rs. 15000 in retail. This would mean 1.4 million laptops would cost 2100 crores. To get 1.4 million laptops for 350 crores, the laptop would cost Rs. 2500 ($56). And that was a mirage which many people tried to find but never did. The $35 tablet PC proposed by Indian HRD ministry would be possible only if there are 1 million orders for the tablet. If we go by the same logic, 1.4 million laptop order would bring down the cost significantly. Would it be Rs. 2500? We might never know.

An interesting discussion is going on Twitter about the chance of corruption in a massive scheme like this. The general consensus is, it would be best if the Tamil Nadu government would just give laptop vouchers instead of letting the students use the laptop decided by someone in the government. Or they should just follow what Gujarat has done and dole out cash to buy the laptop. All valid points and it would be an intriguing case study on how this will be implemented.

Speaking of corruption, if the government is spending 350 crores only, then it might as well be spent well without any pilfering. A broad observation on corruption in the North and South reveals that, the South is genuinely interested in quality scams. The North is genuinely interested in quantity scam. And 350 crore is not a quality scam but a quantity one. In the South, that’s just peanuts. Don’t bother.

Leaving the economics, feasibility and corruption aside, this is a great move by Tamil Nadu. I just hope that these laptops come with in-built connectivity options and boat loads of content. And speaking of content, this looks like tremendous opportunity for getting more educational content in the educational vertical.