The project aims to provide 2G mobile connectivity in 4,118 villages through 2,817 telecom towers at a cost of around `1,500 crore and was cleared by the Union Cabinet in 2014.
The government’s plan to improve mobile connectivity in the north-east is hanging fire, as the tender to connect more than 4,100 villages in the mountainous regions of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam has been marred by bickering amongst participating firms, delaying the pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The project aims to provide 2G mobile connectivity in 4,118 villages through 2,817 telecom towers at a cost of around `1,500 crore and was cleared by the Union Cabinet in 2014. State-run telecom operator BSNL is the operating agency for the project, for which it floated a tender in April 2016.
Several sources whom FE spoke to said the project work has been delayed as the participating firms have been blaming each other for inconsistencies in filing of bid documents and equipment, which has led to the government conducting testing of the equipment twice.
A total of five firms— Vihaan Network (VNL), Himachal Futuristic Communications (HFCL), state-owned ITI, Fibcom and Toshniwal Enterprises Controls—participated in the project bidding. VNL and HFCL cleared the technical bid round. The opening of the financial bids is yet to happen.
A source said: “The first testing was done in August last year and two firms (VNL and HSCL) finalised. After this, the managing committee of the BSNL board, Department of Telecom and the Universal Services Obligation Fund received several complaints from the participating firms regarding discrepancies. Following this, a high-level committee was formed to look into the complaints.”
This high-level committee recommended re-testing of the equipment, which took place in February this year and VNL as well as HFCL again cleared this round, he added.
A senior government official said that after the second testing and its report, there has been again complaints regarding the “evaluation, re-testing and submission of equipment’s”, which were then disposed as per standing procedure. This complaint business and bickering among the participating firms has led to delays, otherwise the project should have started by now.
The issue of delay in the project has now been raised by Ninong Ering, member of Parliament in Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh. Ering, who has written several letters to telecom minister Manoj Sinha, approached the Prime Minister earlier this month regarding the delay in the mobile connectivity project. He also raised the issue during the Question Hour in Lok Sabha. Sinha assured Ering that the project is the government’s priority and will be completed.
– Rishi Ranjan Kala