Even as the Department of Telecom (DoT) is working overtime to complete the Bharat Net project, the process is marred by hurdles in ensuring end-to-end connectivity and delays in project execution.
The national optic fibre network, christened Bharat Net, which aims to connect the country’s 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with optical fibre cable (OFC) for high-speed internet access, has already missed the first phase deadline of March 31, 2017. It barely made the cut on the second deadline of June 30.
Till July 2, Bharat Broadband Network (BBNL), the special purpose vehicle set up for the project, was able to cover 1,00,076 of the total 1,00,276 panchayats in Phase 1. To cover all areas under this phase, 2.22 lakh km of OFC was to be laid, but till July 2, 2.19 lakh km was laid.
Unhappy with constant delays in Bharat Net, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has directed DoT secretary Aruna Sundararajan to ensure that it meets deadlines. Even the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), the funding agency for Bharat Net, has been pulled up.
Sources told FE that even as the work for connecting panchayats is being fast-tracked, issues have cropped up regarding end-to-end connectivity, which is crucial for providing internet access. End-to-end connectivity means seamless network of optical fibre till the panchayat.
Besides, around 50,000 km of poor-quality fibre has to be replaced at a cost of a more than Rs 2,000 crore adding to the department’s woes and this is at a time when the DoT is busy preparing for Phase 2, for which it will move the Union Cabinet for approval by August.
Of the 1,00,076 panchayats under Phase 1, broadband connectivity has been provided in only 22,333 panchayats so far.
Another issue, sources point out, is that of poor-quality fibre. “Some of this fibre is old, while some was laid during the project’s initial days. Though a field survey is being done to ascertain the exact length, around 50,000 km of fibre has to be replaced that will incur a little over Rs 2,000 crore”.
“It is now unlikely that the project will complete by December 2018 as scheduled earlier. The DoT now is projecting a deadline of March 2019,” a source said.
-By Rishi Ranjan Kala