The Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (TEPC) has requested for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) intervention in awarding of the Kochi Lakshadweep Islands (KLI) submarine fibre cable project worth Rs 10.72 billion to a single bidder, NEC, a Japan-based company. As per the TEPC, the conditions under which the project has been awarded bypass the laid-down criteria and discourage the government’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).

In a letter to S Gopalakrishnan, additional secretary, PMO, dated August 31, 2021, the TEPC has stated that eligibility conditions for domestic companies were stringent, and the department proceeded with a limited technology condition despite reservations from the Empowered Technology Group (ETG), led by principal scientific advisor K VijayRaghvan.

Earlier, in March 2021, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) had called for bids for the design, engineering, planning, supply, and deployment of a submarine cable system connecting mainland Kochi and the Lakshadweep islands.

The cable was to be built with a 6-fibre pair with a capacity of 200 Gbps, linking islands such as Androth, Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat, Bitra, Bangaram, Agatti, Kavaratti, Kalpeni, and Minicoy with the condition of a repeated segment from Kochi to Minicoy while retaining 12 non-repeated segments.

The state-run telco’s repeater technology requirement finally excluded numerous homegrown firms, which TEPC claims was arbitrary, and the local industry sought assistance from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) through a series of letters.

The Cabinet authorised the KLI submarine cable connectivity initiative in December 2020, with a route length of 1772 km and a construction expenditure (capex) of Rs 8.37 billion and an operational expense of Rs 2.35 billion (opex).