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BharatNet tender: New norms favour international firm, says NGO

The Tamil Nadu government has refloated the tender for the Rs 2,000 crore Bharatnet project after it was struck down by the Centre. Though most of the restrictive clauses in the previous tender have been removed, NGO Arappor Iyakkam has written to the state government and Centre alleging that three restrictive criteria would once again narrow down competition.

One of the points, on the procurement of routers, has also flagged by a few companies during the pre-tender process, as per official documents. “This has been tweaked to favour a single foreign firm,” Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor lyakkam said.

Hans Raj Verma, additional chief secretary and IT secretary, did not respond to queries seeking comment.

The Bharatnet tender is for setting up optical fibre network to provide high speed broadband internet to 12,524 gram panchayats in the state. At the centre of the latest objection is a tender clause involving routers.

Each panchayat will have a router, around 400 blocks will have another router each and there will be two at the headquarters. The configuration for each is different.

In the tender freshly floated last month, TANFINET, the government agency, has stated that all the routers should be from the same original equipment manufacturer.

Some companies, and Jayaram in his complaint, have stated that the headquarters routers have a different specification than the ones at the block and panchayat level. “Domestic manufacturers can supply the block and panchayat routers, but not the headquarters one. This clause is effectively to ensure only one foreign company can participate,” Jayaram said.

In the pre-tender meetings, competitors raised a similar issue. “By allowing single OEM for all categories of routers, participation of local manufacturers will be restricted,” the objection states.

In the earlier cancelled tender, TANFINET had allowed bidders to procure the headquarter routers from a different OEM. “Why they resorted to another restrictive clause despite removing it earlier is puzzling,” Jayaram said.

The other two objections raised by Arappor pertain to reduction in number of block routers and operating temperature of aggregation routers, which Jayaram alleges favours a single foreign firm.

“Earlier restrictive clauses in turnover and experience have been removed, but some have been introduced in highly technical points to narrow down competition,” Jayaram said. ToI

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