The Madhya Pradesh government has stopped the distribution of smart phones under its much touted ‘free of cost smart phone scheme’ to college students amid complaints of sub-standard quality of the handsets.
It is alleged that procurement of the handsets was done through a “shady” tendering process in a bid to help a particular company having “zero turnover”.
Though the BJP-led state government had announced distribution of smart phones to undergraduates in 2013, the actual purchase of the handsets started only in May 2016, after a tender was floated by the MP Electronics Development Corporation (MPSEDC).
“We have stopped the distribution of smart phones to the college students following complaints and reports of sub-standard (quality of) phones,” said MPSEDC chief general manager Tilak Raj Kapoor.
He said the corporation had allotted the contract to supply 3.75 lakh smart phones to a private company, out of which 1,30,000 phones, have been distributed to the students of government colleges in various districts so far.
MPSEDC, which works under the information technology department of the state government, purchased the smart phones after floating a tender in May last year.
Kapoor said the chief minister’s secretariat had also inquired about the quality of the smart phones, following which the corporation submitted a report.
He said most of these phones were distributed in the remote areas of the state.
On the other hand, a non-political organisation ‘Vichar Madhya Pradesh’ has accused the government of deceiving students by providing them “sub-standard” phones.
Terming the purchase of cell phones a “multi-crore scam”, the organisation has demanded an enquiry by a high-level committee.
“The phones of ‘forstar amosta 3G5’ model given to the students were not usable due to poor quality. The phone’s camera gets on if one unlocks the set. Besides, many buttons of the phone are non-functional. This is an indication that the phones were purchased only to benefit a particular company,” Akshay Hunka, a member of ‘Vichar Madhya Pradesh’, told reporters.
He claimed that a company with ‘zero’ turnover was allotted the contract of Rs 81 crore to supply these phones.
“It should be clarified that how come a zero turnover company successfully got a tender to supply mobile phones worth Rs 81 crore? The company got registered on December 17, 2014, but its turnover remained zero during the next two financial years. The commercial operation of this company was started in October, 2016 after securing this tender,” he claimed.
When asked about the allegations of irregularities in the tendering process, Kapoor said, “Such complaints are routine.
People will complain even if a paper pin is distributed (by government) free of cost. We are satisfied as we did nothing wrong.”
Meanwhile, a student said he and his friends faced numerous problems like poor data speed, fast draining battery, automatic deletion of data, repeated hanging and low memory place in the phones allotted to them under the scheme.
“We were given these phones on March 25-26. The phones are of very poor quality. They hang repeatedly. Their batteries hardly last for an hour. We are not able to hear due to poor quality of microphone. Besides, there are a number of issues with these handsets,” Gajendra Singh, a student of Bhoj Government College at Mandideep near Bhopal, said.
He demanded that the students should either be given money or new phones.
When contacted, Higher Education Department Principal Secretary Ashish Upadhyay said his department has not received any complaints regarding the functioning of the handsets.
“We have not received any complaints about any sub-standard quality of phones. Typically, students make a complaint in this regard once their classes resume after holidays,” he said.
Upadhyay said they had in the past replaced certain smart phones after receiving complaints about their functioning.
“Some phones were replaced after we received complaints.
These phones have been distributed since January this year.
Earlier, a different company was providing the mobile phones,” he said.
When contacted, Higher Education Minister Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya told PTI that his department was not a procurement agency as far as mobile phones are concerned.
“Higher education department would take up the issue with the Information and Technology Department, in case it gets any complaints,” he added.
Ahead of the 2013 elections, the BJP in its manifesto had announced distribution of smart phones free of cost to undergraduates.