The government’s ambitious projects including Digital India and BharatNet will get a major boost with Ravi Shankar Prasad taking charge of both communications and electronics and IT ministry on Monday.
Digital India 2.0 and the next phase of BPO (business process outsourcing) policy in rural and far-flung areas is already being developed by the ministry of electronics and IT.
There have been some delays and many coordination issues between the implementing body of BharatNet, which falls under communications (telecom) ministry and Common Service Centers, which comes under the domain of electronics and IT ministry, according to senior officials.
CSCs provide last-mile connectivity from gram panchayats till where optical fibre of BharatNet reaches. BharatNet is one of the ambitious programmes of the previous government to provide internet connectivity in the rural hinterlands. About 1.5 lakh gram panchayats have already been connected through optical fibre but not all have lit up as there are last mile issues.
In the previous government, Prasad was handling electronics and IT ministry. Now, with the same minister at the helm of both the ministries, the coordination issues are expected to resolve at a faster pace.
Though Prasad was given the charge of both ministries in 2014, later Manoj Sinha was made telecom minister when the issue of call drops was at the peak.
The second phase of Digital India and a business process outsourcing (BPO) policy 2.0 – the earlier one focused on small towns and cities – will be topmost agenda apart from the data protection Bill, which created a furore in the industry earlier.
Under the minister in previous government, mobile phone manufacturing units in India increased to 120 in 2018 from just 2 in 2014 while production of handsets grew to 225 million units from 60 million units. A few months back, a new electronics policy that aims to create a $400 billion electronic manufacturing ecosystem by 2025 and a policy for software to position India as a hub for product development was also approved by the IT industry.
In the telecom industry, the revival of ailing telecom PSUs – BSNL and MTNL, 5G technology trials and a new round of spectrum auction would be the top priorities for the new minister.
Some of the crucial decisions have been pending owing to the general elections for the past few months. The Department of Telecommunications officials say a Cabinet note on the revival plan of BSNL and MTNL, which are facing liquidity crunch amidst rising employee costs, has been prepared and is expected to be taken up on a fast-track basis.
BSNL is awaiting approval for its land asset monetisation, a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for both BSNL and MTNL and allotment of the 4G spectrum are a key part of revival plans. Both the PSUs have been incurring losses since 2009-10. Due to hyper competition and huge employee costs, the expenditure of both firms has hit the roof while revenues have nosedived. For BSNL about 55% of its expenditure goes into employee salaries as it has a huge base of 1.76 lakh employees across India. For MTNL, the expenditure on employees is around 99%. A VRS proposal for Rs 6,365 crore for BSNL and around Rs 2,120 crore for MTNL was given to the government for consideration. Also, both the firms have asked for allotment of 4G spectrum without paying the auction price.―DNA India