BharatNet might finally see progress in Tamil Nadu

Delayed by controversy, BharatNet might finally see progress in Tamil Nadu

The implementation of BharatNet was mired in a major row in 2020

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin. Credit: PTI File Photo

BharatNet, the ambitious project that envisages providing broadband connectivity to over 12,000 villages, is yet to take off in Tamil Nadu, thanks to irregularities in four tenders floated for the project and protracted court cases. 

Of the four BharatNet packages, two are stuck due to court cases and the new DMK government has fast-tracked work on the remaining two. A senior government official told DH that the government would wait for the court order and then take a call.

The implementation of BharatNet was mired in a major row in 2020 after the then Managing Director of Tamil Nadu FibreNet Corporation Limited (TANFINET), M S Shanmugam, and the then Information Technology secretary Dr Santhosh Babu were shunted out after they refused to “give in to pressure” to effect changes in the bidding documents. 

Also read: BharatNet: Digital India's biggest miss

It was alleged that the government made massive changes to the tender documents by increasing the turnover and experience of the company and changing router configuration to suit “specific companies.” These were the changes that the two IAS officers refused to accept by signing the file. While Shanmugam has now become one of the secretaries to Chief Minister M K Stalin, Babu was offered a Voluntary Retirement Scheme. 

After an anti-corruption NGO, Arappor Iyakkam, filed a petition, the Centre in June 2020 cancelled four tenders worth Rs 2,000 crore issued by the Tamil Nadu government for laying Optic Fibre Cables (OFC).

The tenders were issued in four packages — Package A with a value of Rs 350 crores, packages B and C — valued at Rs 550 crores each, and package D worth Rs 500 crore. 

In its order dated June 26, 2020, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, held that the bidding conditions were “restrictive and discriminatory” in nature and asked the Tamil Nadu government to scrap the tenders and re-invite the bids with “non-restrictive qualification” criteria.