The Department of Telecom (DoT) has chalked out plans to speed up USO funded mobile connectivity projects by resolving the unsettled issues relating to the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the border areas on a priority basis, according to an internal action plan report of the DoT .
The key project to watch out for would be mobile connectivity in Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam, which is pending for the last five years after approval.
All these projects run by the government of India are funded by the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund (USOF), a corpus having accumulated cess from the telcos which is currently a Rs 50,000 crore fund.
"The proposal under submission is for resolving issues pertaining to the BSNL tender for implementation of mobile services in Arunachal Pradesh and two districts of Assam, as the projects are stalled after the issuance of APO (Advance Purchase Order) due to a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court and other issues," said an internal note of the DoT.
But looking at the difficult terrains in the northeastern states, 2G-based mobile service is said to be suitable for the uncovered regions there in the absence of broadband backhaul where advanced technology may be found to be underutilised.
BSNL, the executing agency for 2,817 mobile towers, also supported this view and had said in its submission to the Supreme Court that the SLP was misconceived while the use 2G and 4G equipment together was mandated only in May 2018, much later than the awarding of the contract.
These issues have been left unresolved for some time now, and can be expected to be resolved in the near future. The Northeast project was approved in 2014, but it has still not seen the light of day as the SLP and bureaucratic delays have stalled it.
There are also other projects under the pipeline, where some actions are now envisaged after much delay.
The DoT note also stated that part of the immediate agenda are "approval of the Digital Communication Comission (DCC) for provision of mobile services in uncovered villages and National Highways of Meghalaya and Leftwing Extremist (LWE) areas Phase II as per cabinet approval and floating of request for proposal (RFP), and capacity augmentation in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep."
The DoT's immediate action plan also includes finalisation of a list of uncovered villages in 115 Aspirational Districts and the preparation of the DCC note.
The DoT will also prepare the tender document and issue an NIT (notice inviting tender) for provisioning mobile services in the uncovered areas of Ladakh and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir, the border areas and other priority areas, it said.Anjana Das can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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