In a first major move under the new Telecommunications and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, the government on Tuesday invited global tenders under Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode for works worth Rs 29,500 crore in 16 states under the ambitious BharatNet project which will connect every village by broadband.
The scope of this project, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart, has been expanded to cover all 6.3 lakh villages in the country by 2023. The PM had announced from Red Fort last year on Independence Day that this would be achieved within the next 1,000 days. The present works for which tenders are out would involve connecting 3.61 lakh villages by optical fiber.
Vaishnaw had undertaken a detailed review of this project soon after taking over as the new Telecom and IT Minister on July 9. The BharatNet project had been struggling for pace so far. The initial scope of the project was to cover 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country with optical fiber by August 2021. However, that deadline was missed. The government had told Parliament this March that only about 1.5 lakh Gram Panchayats had been service ready so far and 5.09 lakh kms of Optical Fibre Cable was laid.
The government then said the project progress was affected due to lockdown and movement restrictions due to COVID pandemic.
Pursuant to the PM’s announcement last August, the Union Cabinet on June 30 approved a revised implementation strategy of BharatNet through PPP mode in 16 States and the project to extend up to all inhabited villages (6.3 lakh) beyond Gram Panchayats in the said States. Estimated maximum viability gap funding for PPP model of Rs 19,041 crores was also approved.
In a statement issued on Tuesday after the tenders were put out, the government said the scope of work under BharatNet PPP Project would include connecting the remaining unconnected Gram Panchayats and all the inhabited Villages beyond the Gram Panchyats, upgradation of the existing BharatNet Network from Linear to Ring topology and operation and Maintenance and utilisation of the existing as well as the newly deployed network.
The Bharat Broadband Network Limited will administer the Project as the Project Management Agency, as per the tender document. “The concessionaire would endeavor to use domestically manufactured products in the Project to promote the spirit of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’,” the document also says. The earlier phase of the BharatNet project were implemented through three Central Public Sector Undertakings (CPSUs), BSNL, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) and the RailTel Corporation of India Limited.
The government said the PPP Model will leverage Private Sector efficiency for operation, maintenance, utilization and revenue generation and is expected to result in faster roll out of BharatNet. Also, extension of reach of BharatNet to all inhabited villages with reliable, quality, high speed broadband will enable better access of e-services offered by various Central and State Government agencies, the government says. The penetration and proliferation of broadband is also expected to increase direct and indirect employment and income generation.
The government also says that the PPP Model in this critical infrastructure of Telecom is a novel initiative. “The Private Sector Partner is also expected to bring an equity investment and raise resources towards capital expenditure and for operation and maintenance of the network. Hence, the PPP Model for BharatNet will enhance efficiency, quality of service, consumer experience and leverage private sector expertise, entrepreneurship and capacities for accelerating achievement of digital India. This will be in addition to substantial savings of public money,” the government said.