The Parliamentary committee on information technology (IT) expressed its disappointment on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) saying that it has not yet prepared a cabinet note for the adoption of public private partnership (PPP) mode to expedite implementation of BharatNet project.

In this regard, the DoT had got Digital Communication Commission’s (DCC) approval on the BharatNet project over a year ago. Following the DCC approval, the DoT was required to take the cabinet’s approval. However, the DoT informed the panel that a draft cabinet note for the same was under preparation.

The BharatNet project was meant to cover all 250,000 gram panchayats (GPs) with high speed broadband by March 2019. However, it could only connect 118,000 GPs.

Further, the committee noted that the state-led model, barring Gujarat, could not progress at the anticipated pace and in the case of central public sector unit-led model, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has suffered from capacity constraints because of its precarious financial condition. Under the given situation, there is uncertainty as to whether the department will be able to achieve the target of providing connectivity to all the 250,000 GPs by August, 2021, the panel added.

Further, the committee also expressed discontent on DoT’s move to exclude BSNL from the left wing extremism (LWE) – II initiative despite the telco’s revival in full swing. The committee is at a loss to understand when the revival of BSNL is priority of the government and the revival package is being worked out, why BSNL was not considered to participate in the bidding LWE-II process, the panel said.

The Parliamentary group said that awarding contract to BSNL would have helped the cause of BSNL revival and improved their financial position.  In its response on the matter, the DoT said that BSNL was excluded due to the precarious financial position, and the tender is still at a pre-bid stage, and BSNL could bid for it. The DoT also informed the panel about a case being filed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) against BSNL but was not apprised about the reason for the lawsuit. According to the committee, taking away this project from BSNL by filing special leave petition (SLP) whereas allowing Airtel to continue their project under the same tender is akin to meeting out gross injustice to BSNL. To this end, the panel has again asked the DoT to furnish the reason for filing of SLPs and not allowing BSNL to take up the project.

The committee was informed that the LWE Phase-I has been successfully implemented by BSNL by setting up of 2,345 towers. However, LWE Phase-II for setting up of towers at 2,217 locations at an estimated cost of Rs 32.14 billion has not been allocated to BSNL mainly because of the precarious financial position of the state-run telecom firm.

The parliamentary panel was chaired by Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor.