A parliamentary panel has pulled up DoT for failing to incorporate effective penalty clauses in agreements for shared mobile infrastructure scheme that led to roll-out delays, and expressed concern on non-recovery of penalty and outstanding dues. The Public Accounts Committee in its latest report on ‘Shared Mobile Infrastructure Scheme’ said it is “perturbed” to note the “poor performance” of Universal Service Providers (USPs) mainly Reliance Communications, Vodafone, Aircel and Reliance Telecommunications in commissioning of mobile services in allotted areas under the programme.
The scheme was launched in 2007 by the Telecom Department under Universal Service Obligation Fund to provide subsidy support for setting up and managing 7,353 mobile infrastructure sites in 500 districts of various states that did not have mobile coverage.
“As on October 2016, against 7,317 sites out of the targeted 7,353 sites provided by the Infrastructure Providers for provisioning of services, the USPs could provide services only from 7,065 sites till closure of the scheme, that is November 2013,” the report said, adding that due to absence of safeguards and penal clauses in agreements, no action could be taken against the defaulting USPs.
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It said that an effective monitoring mechanism to obviate slippages ought to have been put in place to meet the target set under the scheme. “The Committee are astonished to note that DoT failed miserably to incorporate relevant penalty clauses in the agreements before its finalisation resulting in delayed/non roll out of mobile services within the stipulated time. The Committee….desires that disciplinary action should be taken against those officers responsible for preparing and entering into faulty agreement with the USPs,” the report added.
It recommended imposition of stringent clauses and penalties in all future tenders and contract agreements to ensure timely and prompt provisioning of services. The Committee noted, “with serious concern”, deficiencies such as defective subsidy support with the USPs, non-provisioning of mobile services in uncovered areas, non-recovery of penalty for default and ineffective penal clauses in contracts under the said scheme.
The committee – chaired by KV Thomas – was also disappointed at non recovery of Rs 9.62 lakh penalty from Bharti Airtel (Odisha Circle), and also noted “with concern” the sub-judice case of non-recovery of penalty of Rs 27.10 crore from Idea (Madhya Pradesh telecom circle) for interruption and service downtime. It also wanted to be apprised of the reasons for non payment of outstanding amount against Reliance Telecom (Rs 13.4 crore) and Reliance Communications (Rs 30 crore) with BSNL.