MoF, DoT under Par panel attack on execution of project

MoF, DoT under Parliament panel attack on execution of projects in naxal-infested areas

The Cabinet Committee of Security (CSS), one of the high-profile decision making bodies in the country, might have cleared the setting up of new post offices in Naxal-infested areas as part of a reach-out strategy but the Ministry of Finance (MoF) appears to have put a spanner in its progress.

Similarly, the Cabinet has cleared a revival plan for the BSNL but the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) appears to be unconvinced by its ability to execute the second phase of installation of mobile towers in Naxal-infested areas though the first phase was successfully executed by the Public Sector Unit.

Both the MoF and Department of Telecommunications have come under attack from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, as it is at a "loss to understand" the logic behind such moves.

While the CCS has cleared the proposal to open branch post offices in panchayats in Naxal areas and set a target of opening 2,063 branch post offices in 2019, the panel report tabled in Parliament said it could not be met due to "non-clearance of the proposal for the creation of posts" of branch postmasters and assistant postmasters by the MoF.

While the initial target set at the beginning of the fiscal was 2,063, it was reduced to 300 later. Of this, the Department of Posts informed the panel that 231 have been set up while the remaining 69 is expected to be in place by March 31. Similarly in the north-east, only two post offices could be opened when the target was 18, which is "lamentable".

"This situation pinpoints to the neglect of Naxal-infested areas and the north-eastern states. The Committee is unable to understand why the MoF had not accorded permission for the creation of posts, the mandate of which had already been given by the CCS. This has not only led to a delay in implementing the project for expansion of postal services in Naxal areas and north-east region which are deprived areas but also completely set aside the decision of the CCS," the report said.

On the second phase of installation of mobile towers in Naxal-infested areas, the DoT said 2,217 locations were found to be uncovered by the mobile network after a review.

As the tenders were floated, questions were raised in the panel as to why the project has not been given to BSNL, which has “successfully implemented” the Phase-1 of the project. In Phase-1, 2,355 out of 2,343 towers installed by BSNL in these areas are functioning, while the 12 were damaged by Naxals.

“The Committee are at a loss to understand when the revival of BSNL is the priority of the government and the revival package is being worked out, why BSNL was not considered to participate in the bidding process. In fact, this could have helped the cause of BSNL revival and put them in good stead to improve their financial position,” the report said.

In its response, the DoT had said that BSNL is in a “very delicate stage” where the first priority is to take further action on its revival package. “Can they join with somebody. Can they have some other model in which they can bid? We will consider it. Tender is not closed. It is at the pre-bid stage,” the DoT said.

The panel said if a financial guarantee for bidding was the issue, the DoT could extend the support and government could have come forward for the sovereign guarantee.

“Considering the fact that Phase-1 had been successfully implemented by BSNL and the DoT Secretary's submission that BSNL can bid now also, the Committee desires that the DoT should make sincere efforts to ensure that the work of Phase-II is allocated to BSNL,” it added. 

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