Laptop Bhagya in Karnataka hits GST roadblock as prices spike

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BENGALURU: With opposition parties exerting pressure on the BJP government over the alleged laptop procurement scam, the changing financial circumstances in the country.

This includes the new GST regime, falling rupee and market inflation, which it says spiked the prices by more than Rs 14,920 per piece in 2016-17, the gadgets were purchased for Rs 28,320 each in 2019-20.

Last week, opposition leader Siddaramaiah had said in the assembly that the government “overpaid” Rs 145 crore to procure over 1 lakh laptops under the Laptop Bhagya scheme. He demanded an investigation by an impartial authority.

Higher education minister and deputy chief minister CN Ashwath Narayan said it was nothing more than a political “hit-and-run” allegation by Congress. “There is no truth to the allegation and we will prove it on the floor of the house,” he said.

The higher education department has claimed a technical committee headed by the additional chief secretary of the department, director of collegiate education and senior technical personnel from ISRO, LRDE and IIIT Bengaluru had approved the steep rise in the rates.

The department has claimed the committee justified the increase under four heads: the rates in 2019-20 were subject to 18 percent GST vis-a-vis the 5 percent VAT in 2016-17; the falling rate of rupee against the dollar in the last fiscal; addition of licensed software for students and a three-year warranty for the laptops as opposed to one year previously.

But Congress appears to be convinced the decision to buy the gadgets at an increased price was not justified. According to a Congress functionary privy to cabinet meetings of the previous coalition government, the finance department had vetoed the purchase of laptops citing the huge overheads.

“As a result, the proposal was deferred twice and cleared at the last cabinet meeting when former CM HD Kumaraswamy prevailed upon the department and allowed higher education minister GT Deve Gowda to tender the procurement,” alleged the Congressman, blaming both the coalition and the BJP government for the scam.

The scheme was launched by the Congress government in 2016-17, with then higher education minister Basavaraj Rayareddi finalizing the rates.

“We ordered 39,000 laptops for SC/ST students. In 2017-18, the scheme was expanded to all castes and communities but was not launched full-fledged. I can assure you there is not much difference between the specifications in the gadgets procured then and those purchased now at such an inflated cost,” claimed Rayareddi, providing an invoice from a dealer for the same configuration laptop at almost the same price, Rs 14,700 + GST.

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