Connectivity through infrastructure development could be an underlying theme in the upcoming Union Budget 2018-19 including an announcement to build on the Department of Telecommunications’ BharatNet project for providing broadband in villages. In the project’s first phase, over 1 lakh gram panchayats were connected with high speed optical fibre network as of December 31 and a target of 250,000 is expected to be achieved by March 2019.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) for expanding air connectivity to rural areas and plans to build ring roads in the country’s 28 major cities under the Bharatmala initiative would provide further building blocks to the “connecting India” plan.
Telecom Under the first phase of the BharatNet project, as of December 31, optical fibre cable totalling 254,895 km was laid, covering 1.09 lakh gram panchayats out of which 1.01 lakh gram panchayats were provided active connectivity. The Centre has underlined the need to complete the second phase before the target of March 2019 for which, according to a DoT official, funds have been sought from Finance Ministry.
In 2017-18, the finance ministry allocated Rs 10,000 crore to the project, and in 2016-17, the allocation was Rs 6,000 crore.The official also said that the DoT has sought relaxation of certain duties to rationalise the cost of the project. In last year’s Budget, a 10 per cent Basic Customs Duty on co-polymer coated mild steel tapes and stainless steel tapes was imposed. These are key manufacturing components for telecommunication-grade optical fibre or optical fibre cable. Earlier, there was no such duty on these products.
Under RCS, the Civil Aviation ministry planned connecting unserved and underserved airports across the country. In the first phase of the programme, 128 routes were awarded to airlines but flights commenced on less than half of these routes until December this year. One key reason for this was lack of necessary infrastructure at the airports.
Under the second phase, the Centre plans to step up air connectivity to remote and strategic locations in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir and has identified 24 airports and helipads, including nine in Arunachal Pradesh. Most of these airports are being developed by Airports Authority of India and the developer had sought exemption from payout of dividend to the government for 2017-18 for the purpose, an official said.
Plans to build ring roads in the country’s 28 major cities at an estimated cost of Rs 36,290 crore under the Bharatmala initiative are likely to be part of the Budget announcements. Detailed reports for projects worth over Rs 21,000 crore are currently underway while DPRs are under award stage for projects totaling Rs 4,700 crore. Ring roads have been planned in all major cities, including Delhi, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Ranchi, Patna, Srinagar and Udaipur. These projects are part of the Bharatmala initiative announced by the Cabinet last year under which the government plans development of 84,000 km of national highways at an investment of Rs. 6.92 lakh crore by 2022.