The government’s plan to provide mobile connectivity to more than 55,600 villages across the country by March 2019 looks like an uphill task, as so far only 5% of the target has been achieved. The department of telecommunications (DoT) had in 2014 undertaken a study to identify villages with no mobile connectivity. It was based on the 2011 Census. Based on the study, DoT identified around 55,660 villages. The plan was to cover them by March 2019. However, only about 3,000 villages have been provided with mobile network so far.
Sources in the government told FE, “Only the first phase of covering villages in left wing extremist (LWE) areas has been accomplished, which has covered 3,000 villages. The remaining projects are underway at various stages.”
Projects such as the one covering around 8,216 villages in the north-east has been delayed and only partly cleared. The first part of this project has just been awarded and it will be completed around mid-2019.
The second part of this north-east project is also delayed, as the Cellular Operators Association of India had last month sought more time from the DoT for submission of techno-commercial and financial bids. The bids will now be submitted by mid-May. Another project for providing coverage to 172 villages in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands is still to take off.
A senior government official said the various schemes are being implemented with financial support from the Universal Service Obligation Fund for provision of telecom services in commercially unviable rural and remote area.
These projects take time, as the terrain is very difficult.
“One has to understand it is a very difficult task. Covering these remaining 52,000-odd villages will require huge investment and high execution capacity. They will be covered in a phased manner, but it’s almost certain that even by the end of 2019, some of the villages will not be covered under mobile network,” the official explained.
As per government data, the highest number of uncovered villages are in Odisha, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Of the total 55,669 villages, around 13,900 are in the hilly and north-eastern states, while around 7,000 are in the LWE areas.
Rishi Ranjan Kala