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Domestic players protest, a couple of conditions making them ineligible

BSNL had invited a tender worth for Rs 65,000 crore to implement the third phase of the BharatNet project. The tender is part of the Rs 1.39-lakh crore revamped BharatNet project, cleared by the cabinet in August 2023. The tender aims to connect and upgrade existing 164,000-gram panchayats and connect around 47,000-gram panchayats under the new model. The telco has invited bids across 16 states and UTs for the design, supply, construction, and installation of optical fibre cables, switches, routers and other telecom equipment under the tender.

Domestic players, through their consortium Voice of Indian Communication Technology Enterprises (VoICE), are feeling cornered as a couple of tender conditions are disqualifying them and making them ineligible.

As per the tender document, the bidder should have executed optical fibre cable (OFC) network construction projects and supplied at least 800 equipment units, such as routers, switches, etc, in the last 10 years if bidding for one package under category two states.

In another tender clause, a supplier or services provider whose goods, services or work offered for procurement meets minimum local content of 50%, creates a discrepancy in the local content calculation as a percentage of the total project cost has led to instances where implementing entities are availing undue benefits under the MII policy while deploying imported equipment.

“The experience for local suppliers as stated should be exempted and that only Class I suppliers be allowed to participate in the tender with a proper field trial. Class 1 suppliers are companies who have at least 50% local value addition in their equipment. BharatNet Phase-III expansion requires policies and processes similar to those adopted for the BSNL 4G project to induce locally designed, developed, and manufactured routers for this network,” objects Rakesh Bhatnagar, director general, VoICE.

“BSNL is a government operator and government policies like Public Procurement (Make in India) policies are applicable to it. For BharatNet Project, funding support is coming from government. Domestic design led players like Tejas Networks, HFCL are suppliers of Make in India, Make for the World products and more than 50 countries are taking their support in their Telecom Infrastructure Development. They are capable of meeting not only quality standards but also on prices as well. Only thing required is they should be allowed to be part of the bid. BSNL is supporting the system integrator bidding route and turnover, experience clauses etc do not permit direct participation by the domestic players. If the domestic industry cannot be part of the biggest order of the year in the country, it will actually be hurting India’s vision of global leadership in telecom technologies. Domestic industry should not be left to the mercy of system integrators,” retorts RK Bhatnagar.

Bhatnagar said that by clubbing active and passive components together, a system integrator could easily meet the 50% value addition criterion by undertaking passive part such as providing racks, connectors, and other accessories as well as laying fibre optic cable, and would eventually deploy routers and switches supplied by multinationals or foreign entities.

“The routers have already been indigenously designed and developed and are now being manufactured by many domestic original equipment makers (OEM). It is of utmost importance for the domestic industry that a local design and manufacturing-led Make in India policy, issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and Department of Telecommunications (DoT), should be implemented for this project, fully adhering to the policy’s principles and objectives,” added Bhatnagar in the tweet.

“We had done extensive consultation with over 280 industry stakeholders before rolling out the tender. We expect to complete the process of offering the tender by April,” clarified PK Purwar, CMD, BSNL. BSNL is the single project management agency of the BharatNet project.

Main likely contenders include Nokia, Ericsson, HFCL, STL, TCS, Tejas Networks, Inventum, Infinity Labs, and Lekha Wireless.

The bids can be submitted by the companies till April 2 and the last date to seek any clarification is March 4. The tender bids will be opened on April 3, as per the tender document.

CT Bureau

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