Setting the stage to take forward the Centre’s flagship rural connectivity project BharatNet, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday is learnt to have cleared the proposal for the second phase of the project, under which 1,50,000 gram panchayats would be connected with optic fibre cable (OFC), according to a top government official. In the first phase of the project, 1,00,000 gram panchayats were connected as of end March, albeit two years after it was originally intended to. The original target set by the government for laying down OFC in 1 lakh gram panchayats was March 2015, but was later advanced to March 2017.
The approval entails a total estimated expenditure of Rs 42,068 crore for the implementation of BharatNet, which will be funded from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). Out of this amount, Rs 11,148 crore is the cost of providing connectivity to 1,00,000 gram panchayats in phase-I and Rs 18,792 crore is for providing connectivity to remaining 1,50,000 gram panchayats in phase-II. Balance amount is for such essential activities not covered in the initial BharatNet framework, which include, last mile connectivity architecture, operation and maintenance and replacement of BSNL’s poor quality fibre being used in the project between block to gram panchayat,” the official said.
Compared with the use of only underground optic fibre cable to establish connectivity in the first phase, in the second phase a mix of underground fibre, aerial fibre, radio and satellite media would be utilised to connect the remaining gram panchayats. As of March-end, even though 1,00,000 gram panchayats in the first phase were connected with fibre cable, only 22 per cent of them had active internet connectivity. The Department of Telecommunications’ internal plans suggested that the balance gram panchayats would be provided with active connectivity by September.
“The modified implementation strategy of BharatNet project will enable effective and faster implementation of various mission mode e-governance projects of Central government and state governments,” the official said. “It will facilitate electronic delivery of services to citizens of various e-governance, e-commerce, e-education, and e-health services etc. thereby facilitating inclusive growth,” he added.