The central government’s flagship scheme to provide internet connectivity to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) has picked up some pace but is still running behind schedule.
According to official data accessed by The Indian Express, while the government aimed to make 2.5 lakh GPs service ready by March 2020, under all the phases of BharatNet, only 1.34 lakh have been made service ready as on January 31, 2020. Under BharatNet phase one, the government had aimed to provide optical fibre connectivity to 1.5 lakh GPs, and the rest 1 lakh GPs were to be connected under the phase two of the program. However, only 1.1 lakh GPs under phase one had optical fibre connectivity until January 31. In fact, the progress in phase two remains slower with just 13,750 GPs getting optical fibre connectivity out of the target of 1 lakh by March 2020.
The progress however, is better in some states than others. States such as Bihar and Punjab, which are now being handled directly by Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), have neared completion. In Bihar more than 91 per cent of total 8,893 GPs have been made service ready, while in Punjab over 97 per cent of 12,940 GPs have been made service ready as of January 31.
The work has picked pace in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Odisha, where the states had been asked to take over the BharatNet implementation, the data showed. The work in these states is also being supervised by BBNL on a weekly basis, senior government officials close to the development said. In other states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which had decided to pursue the scheme on their own, the growth in the number of service ready GPs is still sluggish. In Andhra Pradesh, of the 13,518 GPs, only 12 per cent had been made service ready, while in Telangana, 15 per cent of 13,421 GPs had been made service ready as of January 31. As reported by The Indian Express earlier, until March 2019, only 0.2 per cent had been service ready in Andhra Pradesh, while work was yet to start in Telangana due to lack of approvals.
Scheme has neared completion in Bihar, Punjab
The pace of BharatNet scheme has picked up some pace in areas which are being handled by BBNL. In Bihar and Punjab it has neared completion, while in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Odisha, the work has picked up pace after the agency started supervising the work being done. The work is supervised by BBNL in these areas on a weekly basis. Under the BharatNet scheme, the Centre is for now providing free WiFi services to all villages and GPs till March 2020.
Tamil Nadu’s status quo as of March 2019 due to lack of regulatory approvals continued as the work is yet to start in that state. The state’s target under BharatNet is to make 12,909 GPs service ready by March 2020. With the targets set for phase one having been missed already, officials are also unsure if they will be able to achieve the targets for BharatNet phase two either. The government had changed in tact last year and tried to rope in private sector to complete the unfinished projects.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that under the PPP model, private sector will be invited to bid circle-wise for the BharatNet project and the maximum contract duration of the project is likely to be 25 years. The selection criteria for service provider will be their quote for viability gap funding, and the bidders will be expected to provide “on demand” internet connectivity with minimum speeds of 50 Mbps to at least five development institutions in the area, minutes of the meeting showed.
Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh east and West, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand were the states which the work was scheduled to being in PPP mode. In these states, the work has progressed on a faster note after the private sector took charge, the data showed.
In Assam for example, a total of 1622 GP or 54 per cent had been made service ready, while in Madhya Pradesh too 12,922 of the 23,728 GP were service ready as of January 31. In Uttar Pradesh east, this number had risen to nearly 45 per cent out of the total 41,381 GP, while in Uttar Pradesh west, as much as 61 per cent or 10,403 GP had been made service ready as of January 31. Under the BharatNet scheme, the Centre is for now providing free WiFi services to all villages and GPs till March 2020, post which Common Services Centres (CSCs) and village level entrepreneurs (VLEs) will be able to charge for the internet through a pre-paid coupon system.
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