Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has requested the Department of Telecom (DoT) to clear dues of Rs 250 crore to help repay vendors deploying telecom network infrastructure in areas prone to left-wing extremism (LWE).
In the past few months, in several letters written letters to the DoT, state-run BSNL has addressed the chances of third-party firms losing interest in deploying networks in these sensitive areas if payment methods are delayed.
In a recent interview BSNL chairman Anupam Srivastava told Economic Times that BSNL has urged DoT to pay around Rs 250 crore and expects the funds will be released early in August. He further informed that the payments relate to extension of tower sites as well.
The government has approved provision of an additional 156 mobile towers in LWE affected areas with subsidy support of Rs 275 crore from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
In May 2018, the Union cabinet had approved extension of providing 4,072 mobile towers, supported by USOF, upon the successful completion of LWE-I scheme. Under the phase-II programme, the home ministry identified 96 districts in 10 states as LWE prone zones and cleared an outlay of Rs 7,330 crore for telecom coverage. The project is being funded through the USOF corpus formed in 2002 to facilitate rural telephony by way of charging universal access levy.
According to reports by ET, in 2016-17, the government had disbursed merely Rs 7,227 crore out of its Rs 50,000-crore for enhancing rural telecom infrastructure. The home ministry has also conducted the impact test, and live traffic field testing is required in Andhra Pradesh, Srivastava said.
The initiative was part of the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the Northeast that aims to provide connectivity to 8,621 villages with 6,673 telecom towers, with an estimated expenditure of Rs 5,336.18 crore that included coverage along national highways in the region. It also included ‘Connect North East’ programme by the state telco.
In April 2016, Gurgaon-based Vihaan Networks had bagged the order to roll out 1,893 mobile towers in Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi-based HFCL was allowed to deploy 924 mobile towers in two districts of Assam with a deadline of December 2018, which is expected to be missed.
In addition, the advance payment of close to Rs 300 crore for the Northeast project is yet to be cleared by the USOF to BSNL. As per bidding terms and conditions, this should have been cleared within 15 days from signing the contract, an industry executive informed the English Daily.
However, DoT told the Anurag Singh Thakur-headed parliamentary standing committee on information technology early this year that it would be conducting periodical review meetings to ensure the USOF allocated in 2018-19 was better utilised and targets set achieved within the stipulated period.
The Lok Sabha standing committee on finance is of the opinion that the USOF should be fully deployed, especially with the public sector telecom companies, for boosting mobile and internet penetration, and delivering digital services to unconnected areas.