Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, the state-run telco has requested the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to release Rs 250 crore worth of funds to pay vendors who are working on the task of mobile network expansion in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism. BSNL has further said to the department, that it risks losing the interest of vendors in doing further network infrastructure development in the area if the repayment is not made on time. To highlight the issue, the state-led telco has sent numerous letter to DoT.
Anupam Shrivastava said to ETTelecom “We have written to DoT to pay around Rs 250 crore and expect the funds to be released this month.” He also went on to explain that the payment which BSNL is asking, is for the extension of tower sites.
During the time of allocation, it was Home Ministry which granted a sum of Rs 3,567.58 crore to be used for maintenance of 1,836 sites in addition to 363 existing sites over a period of five years. In December 2016, 2,189 sites were functional out of which 1,829 were new, and 356 were existing sites. Apart from the existing sites, the government has approved 156 mobile towers to be set up in the areas affected by Left Wing Extremism. The subsidy support for this project of Rs 275 crore has been granted by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
In a letter dated July 7, BSNL complained that USOF was delaying funds citing reasons like the USOF needed “further information/documents”. It was in May, this year that the Union Cabinet had granted clearance to 4,072 mobile towers in addition to the existing ones. This project is also to be carried out with USOF’s support. For the second phase of LWE-II scheme the department targeted 96 districts in 10 states affected by LWE, for this task, the USOF cleared outlay of Rs 7,330 crore to be spent on network infrastructure expansion.
USOF Administrator Sanjay Singh said, “We want to ascertain whether the technology is working fine, and are awaiting test results from the Telecom Engineering Centre, following which we will go ahead.” It is notable that the government had only shelled out Rs 7,227 crore out of its total corpus of Rs 50,000-crore, dedicated solely to better the telecom coverage.
The administrator further said that the Cabinet had already conducted impact testing in Andhra Pradesh as per the requirements. Apart from that, he added that the department was of the opinion that the services should be tested for quality according to Trai parameters before proceeding with the release of funds.
Another surprising fact is that the advance payment of Rs 300 crore which was due to BSNL from USOF remains unpaid, despite the bidding terms dictating that the amount should be cleared within 15 days from signing the contract.
The project initiated as part of the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan whose aim was to bring connectivity to 8,621 villages with 6,673 telecom towers in the North Eastern region. The stipulated budget for this task was pegged to be Rs 5,336.18 crore. The ‘Connect North East’ program was also included in this initiative. Vihaan Networks, a Gurgaon based company was tasked with the responsibility in April 2016. The company was to establish 1,893 mobile towers in Arunachal Pradesh while Delhi-based HFCL was cleared to plant 924 mobile towers in two districts of Assam with the deadline set in December 2018. However, the company has been said to be delaying the work, and the deadline will possibly be missed.
Reliance Jio has got contrary thoughts on the matter, as president Mathew Oommen said that the USOF corpus shouldn’t be spent on outdated technologies. On the other hand, DoT told the parliamentary standing committee on information technology early this year that it would be conducting periodical review meetings to ensure the USOF corpus in 2018-19 is put into better use. It will also ensure that targets are achieved in set time.