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Commerce ministry warns of action against officials for restrictive conditions in BSNL tender

The Ministry of Commerce Wednesday warned the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) officials of disciplinary action if the public procurement conditions envisaged by the Centre to propel Make in India in the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s (BSNL) tender for the deployment of fourth-generation or 4G sites are not met.

In a letter to the telecom secretary dated April 22, seen by ETT, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) asked the DoT to adhere to the Commerce Ministry’s public procurement policy and said, “disciplinary action may be considered against erring officers where restrictive conditions against domestic manufacturers have been imposed in a malafide fashion.”

The inter-departmental note has come following a Delhi-based group cried foul, saying that BSNL has done a “very serious violation of public procurement policy” of 2017, and no ‘Make in India’ company was ever consulted by the public-sector telco.

The department in its letter, a copy of which was also sent to BSNL chairman said that the grievance should be examined and corrective action must be taken in a scenario of any violation of the government order.

The department has also sought an “urgent report” from the DoT’s since the issue, according to it might be taken up for a resolution in the Standing Committee, and added that the procurement should not be finalised until the grievance is disposed-off by the competent authority.

Queries to DoT and BSNL did not elicit any response.

The Telecom Equipment Promotional Council (Tepc), a lobby group that represents the homegrown telecom equipment companies has red-flagged a tender issued by in March 2020 by the state-run BSNL to deploy next-generation network and sought ‘immediate intervention’ from the Centre.

The public-sector telecom company, as a part of phase – IX network expansion, had invited bids for 4G expansion and up-gradation for 50,000 new 4G sites in north, east, west and south zones and nearly 7,000 new sites in two metropolitans– Delhi and Mumbai for Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL).

In the separate letters to Secretary DPIIT, Guruprasad Mohapatra and Secretary DoT, Anshu Prakash, dated April 15, the Tepc said the two state-owned firms– BSNL and MTNL have done a “very serious violation of public procurement policy” of 2017, and no ‘Make in India’ company was ever consulted by public-sector telcos.

The Delhi-based group said that while the notice inviting bids had a paradoxical approach to the ambitious policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-headed government, the anomalies by two state-driven telecom companies require corrective steps to be taken to save domestic sector facing shutdown.

Meanwhile, BSNL has postponed the bid opening date to May 25 and said that “no pre-bid discussions” for the phase -IX scheme would be conducted.

The document invited bids from those whose parent company must be a manufacturer of the 4G radio access network and must possess experience of planning, engineering, supply, installation, commissioning of at least a total of 20 million GSM 900 and/or GSM 1800 network lines.

The domestic players say that the current bidding provisions appeared lucrative to multinational vendors such as Finnish Nokia, Swedish Ericsson, Korean Samsung, and Chinese Huawei and ZTE.

The group, however, added that it was the need of the hour for the Centre to save domestic industry in line with the Preference to Make in India (PMI) guidelines issued on June 15, 2017, and later revised in 2018 and again in 2019 to encourage domestic equipment makers.

―Gadgets Now

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