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Ethics question at IIT on tablet

New Delhi, April 20: The maker of Aakash tablet computers today accused IIT Rajasthan of “unethically” signing an agreement with a third party to develop a similar low-cost computer, a step that it claimed had spoiled the reputation of brand IIT.

Canadian firm Datawind, which was awarded the contract to manufacture one lakh Aakash tablets, has alleged that IIT Rajasthan breached the original contract by signing an agreement with Quad for a “competitive device”.

Quad is an Indian company to which Datawind had subcontracted the manufacturing.

“IIT Rajasthan’s signing an agreement with Quad to develop a product like Aakash excluding Datawind is wrong and unethical. It (has) hurt the reputation of all IITs,” Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli alleged at a news conference.

The Aakash project is a government effort to provide Indian students with the world’s cheapest computer tablet. IIT Rajasthan was tasked to test the device to make sure it met all the specifications and enhance its technology if required.

Datawind has been alleging that IIT Rajasthan refused to clear its devices and, instead, set “tough and arbitrary criteria” that were not part of the original tender. In February, the human resource development (HRD) ministry transferred the project from IIT Rajasthan to IIT Bombay.

Tuli said: “IIT Rajasthan, behind our back, signed an agreement with our supplier to create a competitive device. They call it a convergence product whose specifications are similar to (those for the) Aakash tablet. We have opposed this action by the IIT.”

He alleged that the IIT did not float a tender before signing the agreement with Quad.

Tuli said that Datawind had issued a legal notice to two IIT Rajasthan professors associated with the Aakash project for allegedly violating “a non-disclosure agreement”.

Datawind says the two teachers visited its manufacturing facility in Canada last year and signed a non-disclosure agreement, but met representatives of Quad on their return. Datawind sees this as a violation of the agreement.

IIT Rajasthan, on the other hand, has filed a claim against Datawind for liquidated damages, alleging non-delivery of the tablets. Liquidated damages refer to a sum that is to be paid if a party defaults on contract conditions.

“The project has been transferred to IIT Bombay. Since IIT Rajasthan is no more handling the project, it cannot claim liquidated damage. We hope that the matter would be sorted out amicably. Otherwise, you would see more drama playing out in court,” Tuli said.

He attributed the delay in the project to “drama” orchestrated allegedly by IIT Rajasthan and Quad. However, the project is now back on track after IIT Bombay took it over, he said. “IIT Bombay has accepted the upgraded specifications for Aakash I (that) we have proposed. Delivery of the devices will start in May,” Tuli said.

Under the contract, Datawind was to provide one lakh tablets. It has so far provided about 600, to IIT Rajasthan, which were distributed among students for field trials last year. The results of the field trial have not been encouraging.

The HRD ministry has decided to develop one million Aakash II tablets as an enhanced version of Aakash I and will soon float a tender.