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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Slow connection: Dearth of funds, workers moving back home brings BharatNet work to a halt in 8 states

Earlier this year in July, these states had written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) asking for more funds to start work on the second phase of BharatNet.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi | Updated: September 28, 2020 5:32:14 am
For BharatNet phase one, BBNL — a special purpose vehicle of the DoT — was the nodal agency. (File)

The lack of workers coupled with a shortage of funds has hit the brakes on the BharatNet work in as many as eight states, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Odisha and Tamil Nadu, according to the latest data obtained by The Indian Express.

For example, in Andhra Pradesh, one of the first states to opt to complete BharatNet work on its own, only 27 out of the 11,839 gram panchayats (GPs) have been made service ready till date, while in the neighboring state of Telangana, not even one of the total 11,374 GPs is service ready, according to the latest data. These eight states had in 2018 opted to complete the work on BharatNet themselves instead of outsourcing it to Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), the central agency overseeing the implementation of the project elsewhere.

Earlier this year in July, these states had written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) asking for more funds to start work on the second phase of BharatNet. Andhra Pradesh, for example, had demanded Rs 2,000 crore from the USOF, in addition to the funds that were already allocated to it. The demand was however denied.

Apart from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, other states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu also fared poorly. While Maharashtra has to lay 50,314 km of optical fibre to connect all of its 12,888 GPs, it has so far laid only 28,019 km and made 2,174 gram GPs service ready. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu, which aims to connect 12,909 GPs and has to lay down 49,500 km of optical fibre, has not even started working on the project, according to the data.

Explained

No funds from DoT, USOF

Having opted to carry out the work on BharatNet themselves instead of outsourcing it to BBNL, the eight states are now in need of funds, having written to the DoT and the USOF for the same in July. However, the demand was denied and no progress has been made.

Most of these states have also expressed to the DoT the lack of workers to dig trenches and lay down optical fibre due to the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 and the return of migrant workers to their hometowns due to lack of job, officials said. The BharatNet project, which initially began as the National Optical Fibre Network in October 2011, has been delayed for over 92 months now.

For BharatNet phase one, BBNL — a special purpose vehicle of the DoT — was the nodal agency. It was incorporated in 2012 and had started implementation of the plan after inordinate delays in the implementation and execution of BharatNet work by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited.

In phase two of the project, however, many states had expressed their desire to complete work on their own and had also floated request for proposal (RFP) for the same. However, the work on BharatNet phase two will be delayed further and the deadline has been extended beyond August 2021, the government said last week, without specifying what the new deadline would be.

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