Budget 2019: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called for speeding up the BharatNet project with the help of USOF
Budget 2019: The Union Budget 2019 reinforced a slew of central schemes that Modi government inaugurated in its first term. In her maiden budget presented during the government’s second term, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman shared some important data for the flagship BharatNet project, which provides a roadmap of how Modi government will connect every gram panchayat in the country.
The BharatNet project, previously known as National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN), has so far managed to stay afloat even after missing several deadlines. Sitharaman said that the government will employ Universal Service Obligation Fund, or USOF, to speed up the BharatNet project to connect 2.5 lakh village blocks in the country with a high-speed optical fibre network that will be used to deliver citizen services.
USOF is essentially an independent body that operates within the Department of Telecommunications that provides subsidies to various agencies and firms in developing telecom infrastructure in India. The delay in achieving the targets in laying down optical fibres increased the cost to Rs 70,000 crore from the initial allocation of Rs 20,000 crore by USOF, as per official data.
With the fresh allocation of funds by USOF, the amount of which is unclear, BharatNet project will get a boost, at least to meet the deadline this time. Under the first phase of the BharatNet project, 1.9 lakh village block were connected, which is significantly less than the target of 2.5 lakh blocks that includes over 6 lakh villages.
In April 2017, the government also proposed setting up public Wi-Fi hotspots across the connected villages using the BharatNet infrastructure by December 2018. However, the installation of Wi-Fi hotspots entirely relies on the complete rollout of optical fibres under the BharatNet project, which is far from meeting the deadline.