Indian state in great laptop giveaway

AFP , Thursday 15 Sep 2011

A government plan worth $2 billion aims to provide seven million students across the country with laptops, as was promised by the Tamil based AIADMK party in its electoral campaign in May

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Thursday began a $2 billion giveaway of free laptops to every student in state-run schools and colleges over the next five years.

The scheme was an election promise made by the local AIADMK party of former movie starlet J. Jayalalithaa, which came to power in state polls in May, and has been criticised by some as a cynical vote-buying ploy.

The plan aims to provide laptops to nearly seven million students across the state, including 900,000 in the first year.

Jayalalithaa's administration has earmarked 10.2 billion rupees ($2.1 dollars) to fund the project, but critics say the money would be better spent on social welfare schemes.

A senior lawyer in the state capital Chennai had petitioned the Supreme Court to impose a stay on the laptop handout on the grounds that it amounted to electoral "bribery" and a corrupt use of state funds.

Speaking at Thursday's launch, which was marked by an initial giveaway of 6,600 laptops purchased from Acer and Hewlett-Packard, Jayalalithaa hit out at those who had sought to "demean" the scheme.

"The sole aim is to make people economically independent," she said. "No one should trivialise it."

As well as laptops, the government is distributing free electric fans, food mixers, goats and cows to tens of thousands of impoverished families in villages across Tamil Nadu.

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