In Madhya Pradesh, a smartphone for government college students kicks up a row

Students say substandard, govt halts distribution, activists allege scam, firm says did nothing wrong

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Bhopal | Published: June 6, 2017 1:30:34 am
madhya pradesh smartphones, madhya pradesh govt, smartphones scheme, mp news, latest news, indian express Minister Lal Singh Arya at a function to distribute the phones in Bhind. Express

The Forstar Amosta 3G5, a smartphone gifted to freshers in government colleges under a populist scheme in MP, has run into controversy with students alleging that phones distributed in the second batch are substandard.

The scheme is for students who maintained 75 per cent attendance in college. The first batch of beneficiaries seemed to have no problems but some among the second batch have a number of complaints against the phones — now assembled and distributed by two different companies — ranging from low memory to overheating to a malfunctioning touchpad.

After the number of complaints crossed 300, the MP State Electronic Development Corporation (MPSEDC) has decided not to distribute the remaining 2.45 lakh handsets unless they get a go-ahead from the chief minister’s office. Nearly 1.30 lakh students —1.45 lakh according to the company — have got the phones so far, mostly in rural areas. The MSEDC has claimed the number of complaints is negligible and rival companies that lost the tender bid are behind the campaign.

The tender floated in July 2016 was won by Karvy Data Management Services Ltd (KDMSL), based in Hyderabad, for supply of 3.75 lakh handsets, each worth Rs 2,159.75.

Vichar Madhya Pradesh (VMP), an organisation formed by RTI activists and former AAP office-bearers, has alleged that a company with “zero turnover” won the contract. Former AAP spokesperson and VMP core committee member Akshay Hunka alleged that the company showed Forstar Industries Limited (FILC), China, as the original manufacturer but because it did not have a BIS certificate, it gave a sub-contract to Forstar Techno Solutions Private Limited (FTSPL) without written permission from MPSEDC, which he said violates tender conditions.

Hunka alleged FTSPL was registered on December 17, 2014, and its turnover for 2014-15 and 2015-16 was zero. It started commercial operation only after getting this project in October 2016 and got a BIS certificate only after distribution of phones started in January 2017. Demanding that the company be blacklisted, the VMP demanded a probe into what it called a multi-crore scam.

Asked about the allegations, KDMSL sent The Indian Express a response signed by Srinivas Varma Pematsa, who looks after e-governance in the company. “No tender condition was circumvented,” it said. “KDMSL signed the MSA during November 2016 for supply and distribution of 3.75 lakh smart phones, out of which 1.45 lakh have already been distributed… The smartphones are as per the specifications provided in the tender,” it said, listing the specifications. Describing lack of memory and hanging as “generic feedback”, the company, “It’s a matter of perception with regard to the device specifications and nothing to do with quality of product supplied. All smartphones heat up marginally if used while being charged or multiple applications are opened simultaneously.”

The company dismissed the allegation about FTSPL having zero turnover. “The contract was awarded to KDMSL and not FTSPL. The devices are also being distributed by KDMSL. FTSPL is an entity having tie-ups with OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) from China… with whom KDMSL has entered into an arrangement for the supply of the smartphones… The parts were received… at Gwalior plant for assembling and manufacturing smartphones in India as required under the condition of the tender.”

It said BIS was “existing” when the tender bid was submitted. “Since the decision to supply the phones from the Gwalior facility was taken in November 2016, fresh BIS in the name of the new manufacturing facility was applied and received on February 1, 2017, much before distribution in March 2017.”

MPSEDC chief general manager Tilak Raj Kapoor said a report had been sent to the CMO answering every allegation by providing facts. “If the higher-ups are not satisfied with the report they may take a call whether to continue with the phone.” He claimed he was using a phone with a similar configuration but did not face any problem. “The propaganda has been orchestrated probably at the behest of those who lost out.”

Bhagwan Singh, a Bhopal-based office-bearer of ABVP, said the quality of phone was not good. Jai Bharadwaj, a student of G government Arts and Commerce College in Mandideep, said his phone worked well for a month. “Now when I touch Google, a gallery opens,” he said. His phone has 4.5’’ screen and 512 MB RAM.

MPSEDC deputy Dy CGM V K Arora said the contract was sanctioned by a company comprising IAS officers who felt 512 MB was all right. He said the company has invested Rs 15 crore in Gwalior. “Every detail is online. There are no irregularities,” Arora said.

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