The Madhya Pradesh government’s big ticket scheme to distribute smartphones to undergraduates has allegedly turned out to be a phony business with students getting sub-standard phones.
Before the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP had promised free phones to woo young voters. The government delivered its promise last year, becoming the first state with such a scheme.
Initially, there was a multinational company engaged to supply the phones, which did its job for a year. Later, another company won the bid.
Sources from the higher education department said many students who got the phones made their complaints known. The problems include 3G-enabled phone with data download speed worse than 2G-enabled phones, heating up of battery, and data getting automatically deleted due to low memory space, students alleged.
The Madhya Pradesh State Electronics Development Corporation (MPSEDC) had signed an agreement with Hyderabad-based Karvy Data Management Service Limited (KDMSL) for the supply of 3.75 lakh smartphones at Rs 2,159.75 apiece. About 1.30 lakh phones have been supplied.
The tender was floated in July 2016 and the company was to get the phones from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Forstar China’s unit in India.
But KDMSL later assigned it to Forstar Techno Solutions Private Limited (FTSPL), which has existed merely for two-and-a-half years and which had no previous experience in manufacture of smartphones, documents with HT show.
Akshay Hunka, a Right to Information (RTI) activist, said FTSPL assembled the phone Amosta 3G5 in IT Park, Gwalior, from October 2016 after getting most of the parts from China. But the phone carries a ‘Made in India’ logo.
Vijay Agrawal, a former office-bearer of CII, says a product must use at least 90% Indian raw materials in order to be certified ‘Made in India’.
“When FTSPL began its journey in a room in 2014 in Raipur, it had zero turnover for two years,” alleged Hunka. “It is now dealing with a Rs 78-crore project of MP government. Hence, under the scheme, the government has provided the benefit to a company, not students.”
Documents show Forstar China didn’t comply with a tender condition of having a Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) quality certification for manufacturing of phones when the agreement was signed in September 2016. FTSPL, which delivered the phone on behalf of KDMSL, got a BIS certification in February 1 this year after the distribution of phones was started.
KDMSL e-governance director Sriniwas Varma and KDMSL CFO K Pandu said FTSPL MD Vivek Prakash would answer the queries. When asked about FTSPL’s credentials, Varma didn’t reply.
Prakash said, “KDMSL has assigned us the project. We are assembling the phones by procuring products from different OEMs. Assembling can also be called manufacturing. We have received only one complaint from MPSEDC.”
On the use of the ‘Make in India’ logo without DIPP permission, Prakash said, “The current project of distribution of mobile phones is a state government initiative and MPSEDC has taken this up to promote local manufacturing in the state.”
The corporation runs the project on behalf of the higher education department. Ashish Upadhyaya, principal secretary of the department, said, “They (the company) cannot use any logo on our behalf. Even we are not satisfied with the quality of smartphones but we can’t do anything as we are just distributing it.”
Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, MP higher education minister, held the science and technology (S&T) department responsible for the poor quality. S&T minister Umashankar Gupta said, “We just floated the tender.”
The KDSML neither has authorised service centres in Bhopal, Jabalpur, Indore, Ujjain, Gwalior, Sagar and Rewa nor support centres at every district headquarter.
Students allege that most of the contact numbers mentioned on the box cover were either switched off or unavailable. “I feel cheated,” said Sachin Tyagi, a student from Guna, who failed to get a response from the service centre.
Akshay Pratap Singh, a student from Rewa, sold his phone through OLX because “support centres and service centres were nowhere in the picture”.