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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

States write to IT Min for more funds, say finishing phase 2 of BharatNet on time not possible otherwise

The new deadline for the project is August 2021.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi | July 28, 2020 3:27:08 am
Andhra Pradesh, for example, had demanded Rs 2,000 crore, in addition to the funds that was already allocated to it, from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The USOF, however, has denied the request, sources said. (File)

Several states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh have written to the central government, asking for more funds to start work on the second phase of BharatNet, senior government officials in know of the development said. The officials, however, declined to reveal the amount sought by the states.

“In many states, the progress is extremely slow due to lack of workers, which have mostly gone back to their hometown. Though states have asked for additional financial support, no decision has been taken on it until now,” an official said.

Andhra Pradesh, for example, had demanded Rs 2,000 crore, in addition to the funds that was already allocated to it, from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The USOF, however, has denied the request, sources said

The states have also written to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) , expressing their inability to finish the BharatNet phase two project by the stipulated deadline of August 2021 as the Covid-19 crisis had resulted in cash and well and workforce shortage, the 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. The new deadline is August 2021. For BharatNet phase one, a special purpose vehicle of the MeitY, Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), 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.

Under BharatNet phase two, as of January this year, against the target of providing last mile connectivity to 1.5 lakh gram panchayat (GPs), only about 7.45 per cent had been made service ready. For cable laying, against a target of 3.11 lakh km of optical fibre cable, only about 92,283 km of cable has been laid down as of December end.

Overall, under all the phases of BharatNet, a total of 1.41 GP had been connected and made service ready as against a target of 2.5 lakh. Compounding the problem further, an estimated 19,952 km of lossy optical fibre out of the 27,534 km laid by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) under phase one is now being pulled out and replaced by new optical fibre, the official said, adding the work on that project was also “crawling at a very slow pace”. As of January, progress in states like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Odisha under BharatNet phase two was the worst. The number of service-ready GPs in these states had not even touched 1 per cent of the total 28,623 villages planned to be connected by March 2019. The four states had so far spent about Rs 950 crore, nearly 17 per cent of approved project cost.

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