No more free laptops to students in govt colleges

No more free laptops to students in Karnataka govt colleges

C N Ashwath Narayan

It’s official. The government has decided to stop giving free laptops to first-year degree students, Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan told the Assembly on Thursday. 

“Our government has decided to discontinue this scheme,” Narayan, the higher education minister, said. “In 2019-20, all first-year students studying in government colleges across courses - 1.09 lakh of them - have been given laptops,” he added. 

Those students whose annual family income is less than Rs 2.5 lakh have been given free laptops, Narayan said. 

“To give free laptops to 1.09 lakh students, it cost us Rs 311 crore. It’s a costly affair,” he said. “Colleges are facing basic infrastructure problems. Colleges still don’t have NAAC accreditation. The first priority should be empowering the institutions by focusing on infrastructure,” he said. 

The free laptop scheme was launched under the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2017-18 for 1.5 lakh students in government or aided medical, engineering and first-grade colleges, at an estimated cost of Rs 300 crore. Before that, the scheme was restricted to about 30,000 college students from SC/ST communities. 

Narayan ruled out discrimination while selecting students for the free laptop scheme. When Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri said some students had been left out as their names were not uploaded as per the Rs 2.5-lakh criterion, Narayan said, “Initially, we had 96,483 students. It was later revised to 1.09 lakh students.” 

The scheme cannot be extended to students studying second or third year.

“This was decided by the previous governments for two reasons: it will help students and it was keeping the finances in mind. In fact, whatever we have done was approved by the previous government, including the rates,” Narayan said. 

Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah said the laptop scheme had become a ‘karmakanda’ (disaster). “The cost of each laptop has gone up from Rs 14,000 to Rs 28,000. How is this possible? This should be probed,” he said. 

Concurring, former speaker K R Ramesh Kumar demanded a probe. “Inquiry is a must. If we don’t probe, we will be guilty as members of this House.” 

“When the Congress-JD(S) was in power, the rates were fixed by the Cabinet in June 2019. You should know this,” Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said.

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