The department of telecommunications (DoT) is soon going to invite the private sector in implementing the BharatNet project, which has already seen several delays and cost escalation. Through the project, originally conceived in 2011, the government wants to provide high-speed broadband connectivity through optic fibre to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country. Due to the delays, the cost of the project has more than doubled to Rs 42,068 crore from the original Rs 20,000 crore.
According to sources, the government is working on a revised implementation strategy for creation, maintenance and utilisation of BharatNet under public-private partnership (PPP) model. A request for proposal (RFP) is expected to be issued in the coming few months inviting private players to participate in the project.
Sources further said DoT is working on various revenue sharing models that can be used in partnering with private players. “DoT has to finalise the revenue sharing model and prepare the draft RFP, which needs to be sent to Niti Aayog for vetting,” said a source aware of the details.
Niti Aayog last year recommended that the PPP model should be adopted for BharatNet, and ever since the Aayog has been working with DoT to finalise a strategy.
A few months ago, consultant Deloitte prepared a draft RFP for PPP model, which was shared with DoT and others members of Digital Communications Commission (DCC) for comments and suggestions. The DCC, which is an inter-ministerial panel, is the highest decision-making body of DoT. The panel, in its meeting held on May 11, discussed the PPP strategy and asked DoT to finalise the RFP.
In 2016, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had also recommended PPP model for the project. But the recommendations were not taken up by the DoT. The project was originally conceived in October 2011 by the UPA government, with an aim to provide 100 mega bit per second (mbps) speed to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through optic fibre.
After NDA government came to power, it set up a committee to re-examine the project and suggest ways to expedite it. In July 2017, the government cleared a revised strategy for implementing the project in three stages. In phase 1, only three PSUs —BSNL, Railtel and PGCIL — were to connect one lakh gram panchayats. In phase 2, the remaining 1.5 lakh gram panchayats were to be connected by March 2019. The deadlines have been missed. So far, the government has been able to connect around 1.50 lakh panchayats and has disbursed around Rs 22,000 crore.