Lack of mobile connectivity proving costly in Naxal-hit states

Lack of mobile connectivity proving costly in Naxal-hit states

Lack of mobile connectivity in Naxal-hit areas today proved costly again as 16 lives were lost after security personnel were unable to call for help from nearby CRPF camps following an ambush by Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

Despite having received a nod from the Union Cabinet for setting up connectivity in the far flung areas at a cost of Rs 3000 crore, Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), one of the units of Department of Telecom (DOT), has been sitting on the project for over a year.

Even recent interventions by the Prime Minister's office failed to fast track the project which was termed as the most important step post-Dantewada massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in 2010.

Today as soon as news about another big attack started reaching the government corridors here, the files were dug out again from the cold storage, officials said.

Ministry of Home Affairs officials complained that the DoT had been sitting on the project thereby compromising security.

During a meeting, according to sources, Home Ministry officials apprised the government about continuous delay of the telecom project for last four years and stressed on the need for faster connectivity of areas like Jeeram Valley, where today's attack has taken place.

The proposal for setting up over 2,200 telecom towers in nine Naxal-affected states, forming what is described as the 'Red Corridor', received the Union cabinet's nod on June 4 last. But the decision on the selection of the roll-out is not getting finalised.

The Union Cabinet cleared the project for the nine states after its need was felt more strongly in the wake of the Naxal attack in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh that wiped out the top Congress leadership of the state.

The lack of telecom infrastructure in Left Wing Extremism affected areas of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh severely compromises the position of the security forces vis-a-vis the Maoist ultras.

As far as communication infrastructure, particularly mobile networks are concerned, security forces face significant challenges in their operations in these areas, the sources said.

Sources in the security establishment added that it severely compromises the ability of paramilitary personnel to effectively function in the area, where large parts are still difficult to access.

The proposal was initiated by the then Home Minister P Chidambaram who was very keen on network and communications.

USOF, which was to fund Rs 3,046.12 crore, decided to refer the project to the Telecom Commission after state-owned BSNL gave an escalated price, which includes VAT and state taxes.

BSNL had opened a tendering process after the cabinet note and only two companies were selected as no other player, including foreign ones, were willing to provide equipment at such a low cost.

The private companies, while submitting their tenders, had included VAT, service tax and other charges which states would have levied on the equipment, thereby raising the total cost of the project.

Now, USOF has proposed to Telecom Commission that the revised price be sent back to the Committee, a move which would end up causing further delay, although Election Commission has, meanwhile, asked the DoT to ensure that the project was completed in time.

The initial project cost worked out by USOF was Rs 5,800 crore but it was revised and finalised by BSNL and DoT in December, 2012, which earmarked a Rs 3,800-crore outlay for the same. But USOF then reduced the estimate to Rs 3,040 crore.

The order was placed with Indian companies which have pioneered solar-powered GSM networks in remote areas lacking basic infrastructure and electricity. 
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