Indian state of Tamil Nadu gives laptops to children

By TN Gopalan
BBC Tamil, Madras

image captionJ Jayalalitha giving away freebies that she promised during her campaign

Authorities in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have begun handing out the first of an estimated 6.8 million free laptops to schoolchildren.

All students in government-funded secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for a $292 laptop.

The five-year, $2bn programme is the first of its kind in India.

The laptops are part of a huge giveaway promised by ministers during elections earlier this year.

Supporters of the scheme say it will help disadvantaged children whose parents cannot afford a computer. Critics say the scheme panders to the masses and wastes precious resources.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's leading states in the use of information technology.

It also has a history of politicians giving away freebies to people - the previous Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi, dished out thousands of colour televisions during his rule.

The free laptop scheme was an election promise by the new government led by J Jayalalitha.

Practical problems

However, critics say there may be practical problems.

Some say the costs - estimated by some at $470m this year alone - are simply too high.

They argue that the money could be better spent in areas such as social services and infrastructure.

But others argue that Tamil Nadu is a state on a healthy growth trajectory and that the laptop "give aways" are an affordable cost - the allocation this year constitutes less than 3% of budgeted revenue receipts.

Tamil Nadu also suffers regular power shortages that may mean students will struggle to use the laptops as often as they would like.

Critics also say that the laptops are equipped only with elementary software which may not suit students as they progress through college - a charge denied by the state government.

"We want the laptops to be equipped with the best software, hardware and applications to help the students," information and technology minister Udayakumar said.

The government is also handing out other items it promised to voters, such as food mixers and grinders.

Poorer families, enrolled in food subsidy programmes, will also receive livestock including goats and sheep.

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