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Parliamentary Panel pulls up DoT over BharatNet cabinet note delay, questions BSNL over LWE project ouster

The Department of Telecom has not prepared a cabinet note for the adoption of PPP mode to expedite implementation of rural broadband project Bharatnet even after over a year of Digital Communication Commission’s approval, Standing Committee on Information Technology said in a report.

The BharatNet project, meant to cover all 2.5 lakh village panchayats with high-speed broadband, was set to be completed by March 2019. However, it could only connect 1.18 lakh gram panchayats (GPs).

Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the apex decision making body at the Department of Telecom (DoT), in its meeting last year, had given in-principle approval to move to public private partnership (PPP) model for expediting roll out of Bharatnet.

Following the DCC approval, the DoT was required to take cabinet approval.

The DoT informed the panel that a draft cabinet note for the same was under preparation.

“The committee are, however, disheartened to note that cabinet draft note is still under preparation,” the panel said in its report tabled in Lok Sabha on Monday.

The committee observed that the state-led model, barring Gujarat, could not progress at the anticipated pace and in the case of central public sector unit-led model, BSNL has suffered from capacity constraints because of its precarious financial condition.

“Under the given situation, there is uncertainty as to whether the department will be able to achieve the target of providing connectivity to all the 2,50,000 GPs by August, 2021.”

The parliamentary panel, chaired by Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, has also questioned the ouster of state-run BSNL from rolling out the second phase of mobile network in naxal affected areas.

The committee was informed that the LWE (Left Wing Extremist) Phase-I has been successfully implemented by BSNL by setting up of 2,345 towers, however, LWE Phase-II for setting up of towers at 2,217 locations at an estimated cost of Rs 3,214.65 crore has not been allocated to BSNL mainly because of the precarious financial position of the state-run telecom firm.

The committee wanted that the DoT makes sincere efforts to ensure that the work of LWE Phase-II is allocated to BSNL.

“From the reply of the department it appears either they have failed to understand the intent of the recommendation or they are not very keen that the project be awarded to and executed by BSNL,” the report said.

The DoT informed the panel about a case being filed by Telecom Watchdog against BSNL but was not apprised about the reason for the lawsuit.

“The committee feel that taking away this project from BSNL by filing special leave petition (SLP) by Telecom Watchdog whereas allowing Airtel to continue their project under the same tender is akin to meeting out gross injustice to BSNL.

”The panel has again asked the DoT to furnish the reason for filing of SLPs and not allowing BSNL to take up the project,” the report said. Deccan Herald

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