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BharatNet Phase Two: Only 7.45% Of 1.5 Lakh Gram Panchayats Service Ready

After the inordinate delay in the implementation of phase one of BharatNet, the second phase of the flagship project is also lagging way behind schedule, documents accessed by The Indian Express showed.

Under BharatNet phase two, against the target of providing last mile connectivity to 1.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs), only about 7.45 per cent of these have been made service ready so far. As against a target of laying down 3.11 lakh km of optical fibre cable, only about 92,283 km of cable has been laid down as of December end.

Compounding the problem further, an estimated 19,952 km of optical fibre out of the 27,534 km laid by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) under phase one is now being pulled out and replaced by new optical fibre, the documents showed.

The progress in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Odisha under BharatNet phase two is among the worst. The number of service ready GPs in these states has not even touched 1 per cent of the total 28,623 villages planned to be connected by March 2019. The four states have so far spent about Rs 950 crore, nearly 17 per cent of approved project cost, according to the documents.

While Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have already missed their revised work completion deadline of October and November 2019, respectively, Jharkhand and Odisha have 45 to 60 days to achieve their targets. In total, these states managed to lay about 25 percent of the 1.32 lakh km of optical fibre needed to connect the villages and GPs under the second phase.

The project in these states is being implemented by private agencies in these states, instead of debt-laden Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). That, however, has made little difference. In states where the project is being implemented by state-run BSNL, the project timelines are further off. The state-run telecom company is in-charge of the project in Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim, and Uttar Pradesh.

In Madhya Pradesh, barely 10 per cent of the total 5,832 GPs have been made service ready, while not even a single village or GP has been made service ready in Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh West region. In the Uttar Pradesh East region, only 702 GPs of the total 17,032 that are to be connected are service ready so far.

All these regions have long overshot their target completion dates of March 31, 2019.

In all these regions, there had been little or no work between April and December last year due to the lack of funds with BSNL. On December 27, Bharat Broadband Network Limited cleared BSNL’s dues worth Rs 770 crore, after which the work has resumed, albeit slowly, the documents showed. The revised date of completion of the project in these areas has now been set to March 31, 2020, “subject to availability of fund” to the project implementation agencies.

The lack of approved detailed project report, non-existent project implementing agencies, and non-availability of funds has been attributed as the reason for the delay for most of these projects, according to internal documents of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology accessed by The Indian Express.

In Assam, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, the Centre has proposed to finish pending work from BharatNet phase one and start work on phase two under a public-private-partnership (PPP) model. The work, however, has still not started in nearly 1.25 lakh GPs in these areas due to lack of final approval to the proposed work structure and the viability gap funding.

The work for BharatNet phase two has not even started in Tamil Nadu and Telangana, owing to lack of agreements with project implementation agencies, the internal documents showed.

Overall, as of January 10, 2020, only about 1,33,300 GPs had been made service ready on both fibre and satellite against the target of connecting 2.5 lakh GPs under BharatNet, according to another set of documents.

The government had aimed to connect all GPs and villages in the country via BharatNet by March 2019. Though the government had initially planned to connect only one lakh GPs under phase one, it later increased its target to nearly 1.3 lakh GPs, which also delayed the completion of phase one, the documents showed.―Indian Express

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