Telecom Commission okays Rs 7,330 cr follow-up to BSNL’s Maoist tower project

The Telecom Commission, the top bureaucratic decision making body within the communications ministry, has approved a Rs 7,330 cr project to set up an additional 4,072 mobile towers in left-wing extremism affected areas, telecom minister Manoj Sinha said today.

The project will be a follow-up the first phase, when BSNL set up 2,329 towers in such areas with funding from the Universal Services Obligation Fund, a kind of subsidy corpus generated by taxing telecom users in the country.

In the first phase, 2,355 towers were planned in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Out of these, 2,329 have been successfully set up by contractor BSNL, Sinha said.

The second contract will be even bigger than the first one, but there’s no guarantee that Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd will get this one as well.

Sinha said the second phase project has been ‘recommended’ by the Telecom Commission in its meeting held on 21 December 2017. The proposal “is being put up for consideration of the Cabinet,” he added.

The Universal Services Obligation Fund is home to tens of thousands of crores of money collected from telecom users across the country over almost two decades.

Besides Left Wing Extremist areas, money from the fund is also being used to put up towers in the North East of India.

Due to the hilly terrain, telecom penetration in this region does not match the rest of India.

As part of USOF supported schemes, Bharti Airtel is setting up 2004 mobile towers to connect about 2128 villages in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, parts of Assam and National Highways in North-Eastern States. Separately, BSNL has been assigned to install 2,817 mobile towers to provide coverage in 4,119 uncovered villages in the region as well.

In addition, close to Rs 10,000 cr is being spent on the BharatNet project to connect all Panchayats in India with optical fiber.

BSNL is also being given around Rs 1,250 per year out of the USOF to help it bridge the gap between income generated from operating its landline services in far flung areas and the cost of running the same.