UNITED NATIONS — Indian diplomats are promoting an inexpensive computer that could bring technology to the world’s poor as a great development for India, although all of the parts of the device appear to be made in China.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon even lent his name and prestige to the controversial computer when he appeared with India’s U.N. ambassador at a highly publicized news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York this month. India’s mission to the United Nations presented Mr. Ban with what it called the world’s “cheapest,” fully functional computer.
Dubbed the Aakash 2, the $25 computer was said to be the result of a project originally intended to bring Internet technology to some of the world’s poorest communities.
In front of television cameras, a bright-eyed Mr. Ban held up the computer together with India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri and Sureep Tuli, the CEO of Datawind, which claims to have manufactured the device.
Mr. Ban called India a “superpower on the information superhighway.”
“We need to do more to help all the children and young people make the most of the opportunities provided by information and communications technology,” he said.
However, the Indian press insists the computer is a sham.
Other than the name of the computer and the box it comes in, nothing else is of Indian origin, according to press reports from New Delhi.
The Hindustan Times reported that the computer is made in China, where it is known as the A-13 and sells in shops in Hong Kong and Shenzhen for $42.
Shenzhen is the unofficial capital for most of China’s computer manufacturing.
The $25 price the India’s U.N. mission proudly hyped resulted from a $17 government subsidy paid to school districts throughout India.
On its website, Datawind sells the computers for $80 a piece — a price that places the Aakash 2 in the middle range of similar products already on the market, according to Amazon.com.
Mr. Singh Puri, India’s U.N. ambassador, explained it was his idea to hold the news conference after he saw the computer during a brief visit to New Delhi earlier this year.
“I saw the Aakash 2 when I was in New Delhi and thought it would be appropriate to bring it to New York during the month when I was Security Council president,” he said, referring to India’s current role as presiding officer at the 15-member council.
Mr. Singh Puri, visibly upset, accused reporters of trying to embarrass India’s diplomatic mission with critical articles that appeared only days before he introduced the computer at the United Nations.
“I am not willing to say there is a conspiracy You make your own decision,” he said.
Datawind’s CEO Mr. Tuli told reporters that only a few parts of the computer were made in India but promised that “would change.”
“We used parts from many countries around the world, including China, but who doesn’t? In the future more parts will be made in India,” he said.
Indian reporters could not find that any of the computer’s parts made in India.
Lloyd Trufelman, a spokesman for Datawind, insisted that his company would “be eager” to provide computers for independent examination but has not said that would happen.
Ironically, cheaper Chinese computers with greater capabilities have been on sale in the United States for several months.
One company, Iview, made its cyberpad available to American consumers online this month for only $59 — without government subsidies.