India's U.N. mission in New York has confirmed that the Aakash-2 tablet will be showcased as an Indian product at the summit event on November 28, even though reports allege that some Aakash-2 tablets are imports from China.
In an email reply to ET's query, Joint secretary at Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbar, has confirmed that the Aakash-2 event at the U.N. summit "will go ahead" as planned.
He further said that the decision to unveil the Aakash-2 at the U.N. (during India's Presidency of the UNSC) was taken after it was confirmed that the device would be formally unveiled by the President of India on November 11, 2012. Hence, it will go ahead.
Reports of Aakash-2 tablets being China imports have tarnished DataWind's reputation as well as the Indian Government's claim of Aakash being a total 'Made in India' product.
DataWind won the contract to deliver the first 100,000 Aakash-2 tablets to the Indian Government. The company joined hands with IIT-Bombay to develop the new edition of Aakash tablets.
The company partnered with the Hyderabad-based VMC Systems to manufacture Aakash-2 tablets. However, manufacturing delays by the Hyderabad company caused DataWind to postpone the Aakash-2 tablet unveiling by a few weeks.
The Aakash-2 tablet was finally unveiled by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee on November 11, 2012.
Reason behind Manufacturing Delays:
The Economic Times revealed that the reason for the delay was Datawind's non-payment of dues to VMC Systems. The paper claimed that VMC systems threatened to halt the tablet production and sue DataWind for not honoring its payment contract.
Earlier, DataWind had severed its ties with QUAD, another Hyderabad-based company which manufactured the Aakash-1 Tablet. The partnership was also marred by a similar dispute over payment.
Staggered Production lead DataWind to China:
In order to arrest further production delays, DataWind reportedly purchased the components from Chinese manufacturers for the first 10,000 units it sold to the Indian Government.
"For a first shipment of 10,000 Aakash-2 tablets, sent to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in recent weeks, for expediency sake we had the motherboards and kits manufactured in our Chinese subcontractor's facilities, and then the units have been 'kitted' in China at various manufacturers," Suneet Singh Tuli, the chief executive of DataWind, said in an e-mailed response to a New York Times reporter.
Tuli reportedly said that the tablet's touchscreen was developed in its Montreal unit and claimed that the tablet's software and hardware (motherboard) were designed by the company as well.
He further said that the assembly and programming of the units was done at Datawind's facility in Amritsar and at a Delhi office.
Indian Government's Reputation at Risk:
Li Junhao, president of Trend Grace, the company which supplied some of the tablets, revealed in a telephone interview to the NYT reporter that the tablets they built were sold as finished and ready to use products.
Trend Grace is based in Shenzhen and is one of the several Chinese manufacturers for Aakash-2 tablets.
The controversy has put a shadow on the Indian Government's claim of Aakash tablet being an Indian-made product.
With so many country heads attending the U.N. summit, the Indian Government can only hope that no one at the summit questions the origins of the Aakash-2 tablet. The showcase event is expected to be presided by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
DataWind is at present selling Aakash-2 tablets to the Indian Government for Rs. 2, 263; the Government then offers this tablet to high-school and university students for a subsidized price of Rs.1,130.
To contact the editor, e-mail: