September 20, 2021 3:00:52 am
The Empowered Technology Group (ETG), led by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the government, is likely to meet soon to decide on the fate of Kochi-Lakshsadweep Islands (KLI) submarine optical fibre connectivity after domestic companies alleged that the bid conditions “rigged” to meet the technology supported by only one company, sources said.
The ETG, which also has the Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, the Chairman of Space Commission, the Chairman of Defence Research and Development Organisation, the secretaries of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the Department of Communications and the Department of Science and Technology, was scheduled to meet last week, sources said.
The meeting, however, had to be postponed after the Niti Aayog and the office of the National Security Advisor sought more clarification the present capabilities of domestic companies, along with the details of the KLI submarine optical fibre connectivity tender.
Domestic companies, under the umbrella of Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (Tepc) and Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India (Tema) had made representations to the Neeraj Sinha, the senior advisor for digital communications at Niti Aayog, who has sought to know from the two industry bodies the capacities of Indian firms.
In a reply to the emailed representations of the two industry bodies, Sinha had sought to know the maximum length of submarine optical fibre cable that that so far been produced in India by indigenous companies, the total production capacity of the cables, and the time as well as cost required to commission a new plant near the Indian coast line. The Indian Express has reviewed a copy of the emailed conversation. In its reply to Sinha, Tema has claimed since both the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), which is the executing agency for the KLI project, were insisting that bidders must have at least 10-12 years of experience in manufacturing and laying submarine optical fibre cable, it was impossible for the domestic companies to even think of placing a bid.
The KLI submarine cable connectivity project was approved by the Cabinet in December 2020 with an outlay of Rs 1,072 crore, and is expected to be completed by May 2023.
Domestic companies, which manufacturer optical fibre cable and other related equipment, however, have alleged that the bid conditions were so changed that no international or domestic player, except NEC India, a Japanese company’s Indian subsidiary, could bid in the project.
In an August 31 letter sent to the S Gopalakrishnan, the additional secretary at Prime Minister’s Office, the Tepc has claimed that despite objections from the ETG about the capital, operation and maintenance costs of the project, the DoT’s High Level Committee ignored the suggestions.
According to the industry body Tema, the BSNL bid includes a condition that the technology must be repeater based technology, which is available only with three companies across the globe.
“The said 3 companies normally work in tandem or in other words, they work in their own regions i.e NEC works in Asia whereas other two companies don’t bid in Asia. Therefore by adding a single repeatered segment, BSNL has ensured that no competitor, either from Indian company or from any other country, could bid in the tender,” Tepc alleged in its August 31 letter to the PMO.
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