There is a popular advertisement slogan for a branded computer which says: “The Intel is inside.” For the Goa government scheme under which laptops are disbursed to higher secondary students, it can be said, “A racket is inside”. The laptops provided by the education department for higher secondary students have serious technical shortcomings: they are fitted with a below-par CPU. They have a PQC (Pentium Quad Core) processor, which is a downgraded version of that in the previously supplied laptops, and a Celeron Dual Core processor. The PQC N3540, which was introduced in 2014-15, performs way below the Pentium Dual Core processor 2020M that was introduced in the market in 2012. PQC processor is a damp squib compared to the Pentium Dual Core processor in terms of delivering quality output.
Why was the equipment downgraded? Did the education department order a lower version for any reason, maybe cost? This is ruled out, considering that the scheme has not resulted in any lower expenditure for the government. On the other hand, the government might have paid more as a result of collusive bidding and sharing of the supply bid. There have been allegations of favouritism, bending of tender rules and overspending on the scheme. A certain supplier has been winning the bid for a major share of laptops for over a decade, with a larger group of suppliers given a smaller pie to share in order to make the scheme look more participative.
These are serious issues the state government must address. An inquiry is needed to find out how a certain supplier has been getting major share of the order for supply of laptops. It is also necessary to know if under one pretext or another, some public servants have been colluding with the supplier. Are the tender terms being tailor-made to ensure that laptops are supplied by the same traders? If not for anything, the suppliers and the government officials responsible for laying down the technical specifications for the laptop must be made accountable for the downgraded version fitting into the laptops supplied. What is the point in supplying downgraded equipment, which could be useful to beginners among laptop users, for higher secondary students who require higher versions for their work?
As it is, a significant section of the middle class parents can afford premium quality laptops or desktops on their own. A government laptop could only be an addition. But if the government laptop is a lower version, it would not be of much use even for higher secondary students from middle class families that have waited for the government to give them laptops. That means a waste of a lot of money from the public exchequer on the scheme. Can we fault them if some of them seek buyers for the government laptops? Maybe they find the laptop suppliers willing to render the service of finding prospective buyers. Though the government has put in a clause which says, “The equipment supplied shall be the property of the government for a period of one year from the date of supply, and cannot be used for any commercial purpose or sold during the period,” but there are no checks in this regard. The clause remains only on paper. The education department needs to revisit the scheme and lay down precise, appropriate and updated technical specifications for the laptop in order to provide students higher versions. There must also be adequate checks on the sale of laptops by students.
New Zuari Bridge
Finally, we can hope work to start on the new Zuari Bridge before the December 2015 deadline. The cost of the entire project, which includes an 8-lane and 640-metre-long bridge along with approach road, has been pegged at Rs 2,756 crore. The old Zuari Bridge has been serving as the lone vital link between South and North Goa for nearly three decades and helped development in post-Liberation Goa. As Goa expanded, the demand for another Zuari Bridge was felt long ago. A new connectivity was needed before the ageing bridge gave way. The new bridge will be a cable-stayed and quake-resistant bridge with a life expectancy of 50 years. The government will not have to think about hurdles in land acquisition. Most of the property it needs to acquire belongs to the government. The old bridge, however, would not be closed. It would be used only for light vehicles, while heavy vehicles would ply on the new bridge. Personal and commercial transportation will be much smoother between the two districts with the new bridge open.