Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa may have won elections last month, promising to dole out free laptops to students. But she is now looking to the Centre to bail her government out with a special grant of Rs 10,200 crore over the next five years.
That money, she said in a memorandum handed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, would enable handing out laptops to 6.8 million students in the state.
Her request is like late MGR government's request for Central help to run midday meal schemes, which pioneered the scheme all over the country as a non-plan expenditure.
Already, laptop makers are looking at an order valued at more than R350 crore from the state government. Experts say such an order is unheard of in the computer hardware business. To put the figure in perspective, officials say, India sold a total of 2.5 million laptops and notebooks in 2009-10.
In the first year of her promise, she wants to give laptops to at least 9,12,000 students in government and government-aided schools and colleges.
Jayalalithaa defended her decision to seek the Central help by holding that it was in tune with the latter's National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology.
Jayalalithaa held that, “the Mission's objective of providing connectivity, along with the provision of access devices to institutions and learners would be ideally suited for the programme of providing laptops envisaged by the government of Tamil Nadu.”
She added, of course, a social empowerment angle to her plea. As "the country is poised to become a global information technology superpower" opening up opportunities for the youth and for a level-playing field, she said, "students from lower rungs of the socio economic pyramid need to be equipped to participate in the emerging market.”