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BharatNet deadline extended thrice, notice to Tata but no penalty yet: CM in Assembly

Awarded to Tata in July 2018, the project was originally scheduled to be completed in a year. It involves laying an optical fibre network covering 32,466 km, linking 85 blocks and 5,987 gram panchayats across 27 districts in the state.

Written by Gargi Verma | Raipur |
March 5, 2021 8:50:44 am
BharatNet, BharatNet deadline extended, Bhupesh Baghel, Chhattisgarh CM, TATA, Indian expressGovernment officials have negated the penalties, citing discrepancies in the procedure. (File)

The deadline for completion of the BharatNet Project has been extended till June 2021 from December 2020, and a notice has been issued to Tata Projects Ltd for failing to meet projected milestones but no penalty has been levied so far, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has told the Assembly.

Awarded to Tata in July 2018, the project was originally scheduled to be completed in a year. It involves laying an optical fibre network covering 32,466 km, linking 85 blocks and 5,987 gram panchayats across 27 districts in the state.

Despite the state government levying a penalty of Rs 200 crore as per terms of the agreement between the company and the state, and imposition of the penalty being ratified by a Chief Secretary-led committee, Baghel in his written statement in the Assembly on Tuesday said that no penalties were levied. “Timeline for the agency has been extended thrice. We have given them a show cause notice as part of our procedure to levy penalty,” his statement read.

The Chief Minister was responding to a question by BJP leader Ajay Chandrakar, who asked about the money involved in the project through Central and state funds, the progress, extension of deadlines and penalties.

By September 2020, Tata Projects could ensure broadband-ready infrastructure in only 1,394 gram panchayats (24 per cent of the target), The Indian Express had found. However, in his statement, the Chief Minister said that work had finished in 2,764 villages. “Work is pending in 3,223 villages. Their payments had been stopped to build pressure, and once work started, it was paid back to them,” Baghel said.

After Tata Projects failed to meet targets, the CEO of Chhattisgarh Infotech Promotion Society (ChIPS) had in November 2018 invoked a penalty of Rs 164 crore — after issuing three notices to the firm since August — that year. In February 2019, ChIPS invoked the maximum penalty equal to Rs 200.95 crore — 12 per cent of the total capex of Rs 1,674.2 crore. This amount was rolled back with the government paying Rs 28 crore to the company against deductions made earlier by the state government.

Government officials have negated the penalties, citing discrepancies in the procedure.

In the Assembly, Baghel said the project was delayed because of the time-taking process of getting approvals from various departments such as railways, etc.

Demanding that the answer be given in Hindi, Chandrakar said, “I am not satisfied with his answer and will follow it up.”

“The Chief Minister has completely glossed over the fact that a committee under the Chief Secretary levied the penalty. Why was the process of issuing the letters not started in the two-year delay till last year,” Chandrakar asked.

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