Prime Minister Narendra Modi to totally modify fibre net

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Published: May 5, 2015 12:55:15 AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside over a meeting convened on May 6 that is expected to take decisions relating to a total revamp of the Rs 21,000 crore National Optic Fibre Network project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside over a meeting convened on May 6 that is expected to take decisions relating to a total revamp of the Rs 21,000-crore National Optic Fibre Network project, which aims at linking the country’s 2.5 lakh villages with high-speed broadband services. The project, which is running behind schedule but is critical to the Prime Minister’s Digital India programme that aims at connecting the unconnected, is expected to shed its PSU tag and would be taken forward via the public-private partnership mode.

Currently, the NOFN project is being implemented by Bharat Broadband Nigam, a subsidiary of state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL). Other PSUs like PowerGrid and RailTel are also part of it. The work allocation between the three is in the ratio of 70:15:15. Sources said that at the proposed meeting with the PM the entire allocation would be redone by roping in the private sector also.

The move stems from the recommendations of an expert committee constituted by the government earlier that, apart from recommending the PPP model, has also suggested that it be headed by a chairman from the private sector and include prominent members from the telecom and IT industries.

The panel has also suggested renaming and upgrading the project as BharatNet.

The expert committee comprised former Nasscom presidents Kiran Karnik and Som Mittal, besides former secretary, department of electronics and information technology, J Satyanarayana and USOF administrator Aruna Sundararajan.

The panel has stated that the NOFN in its present form cannot work, and that the single most important factor that would determine the success of BharatNet’s implementation is an overhaul of BBNL.

The overhaul would bring in greater autonomy, flexibility and industry leadership that enables quick decision-making.

Earlier, a review by the department of telecommunications on the status of the implementation of the project threw up the fact that it was moving at a tardy pace in almost all of them with even tenders not in place. For instance, out of 1.2 lakh kilometres of work to be done in phase-I ended March 2015, only 13,000 kilometres of pipe and 7,400 kilometres of cable have been laid so far. Work has started in only 455 blocks of the total 6,533 blocks earmarked for the first phase.

“All circles were found to be lagging behind the schedule in issue of work orders. Many circles have invited tenders several times but could not finalise the tenders for one reason or another. Circles have now been advised to examine the reasons of failure in the first tender and take corrective measures so that tender is successful the second time,” an official who had attended the review meeting had told FE earlier.

Industry analysts have all along been critical of the project from the point of view that its implementation is being done by PSUs rather than awarding work to private sector agencies on a turnkey basis.

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