State-run telco BSNL has blamed delays in some of its key projects, including providing mobile connectivity in Arunachal Pradesh, ‘on the indecisiveness from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).’
“….there is no delay on the part of BSNL, but it is due to indecisiveness from USOF, the projects are getting delayed and even funds are not released in time,” a top official, who did not wish to be named, said. The Hindu has learnt that this has also been communicated to Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan.
In 2014, the Cabinet approved a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the North-Eastern Region at an estimated cost of Rs 5,336 crore. The project, under which 6,673 mobile towers were to be set up in about 8,600 villages, was divided into two parts. While BSNL was to implement the strategically-important project in Arunachal Pradesh and two districts of Assam, in the other parts of the region it was to be executed by private operators. The project was to be funded by the USOF.
After nomination of BSNL by USOF in 2014, BSNL had sought clarifications from the fund on issues such as technology, capital expenditure and operating expenditure among other things for the North East connectivity project. However, the queries were answered only in March 2016. Similarly, with regard to the project for connecting Andaman and Nicobar Islands with Chennai via optical fibre cable (OFC), BSNL had sought clarification, on keeping out “unfriendly countries,” from the USOF in December 2016. However, the replies were received only in June 2017.
In an another project that aims to augment intra-island OFC in Anadaman and Nicobar Islands, the work has been awarded to a contractor who began implementation. The related MoU was submitted to the USOF in April 2017 but it was yet to be signed. Even the funds, which were to be given as advance, were not released as yet, the source added.
The Telecom Commission, headed by Ms. Sundararajan, on Friday cleared a part of the North East mobile connectivity project under which 3,835 telecom towers would be set up in 4,502 unconnected villages in the North East, except Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Bharti Airtel and its subsidiary had won the tender for this project, which would entail a cost of about Rs 3,100 crore. However, the BSNL project was yet to get approval from the Commission.
In June, Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh Ninong Ering wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi red-flagging delays in the connectivity project in the State and seeking his “personal intervention” to ensure that the project was not derailed.
The USOF has been set up to fund projects to boost connectivity in rural and remote areas. The money for this fund comes through a levy that is charged from the telecom operators as a percentage of various licence fee being paid by them. – The Hindu