Govt increases pressure on BBNL, BSNL ahead of BharatNet deadline and election

19 Nov 2018

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a warning to state-backed operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) regarding the progress of the government’s BharatNet programme, the Economic Times writes. The ambitious plan aims to deploy high speed internet services to 250,000 gram panchayats (village level administrative divisions) by 31 March 2019 – the deadline having already been postponed several times – and the government is keen to complete the landmark project before next year’s general election. According to BBNL’s latest update on the project, though, only 115,997 gram panchayats were service-ready by 12 November. In addition, the completed sections were also falling short of utilisation targets, with use reportedly less than 10% of the expected rate due to failures in maintaining the network. As such, the central government is increasing pressure on the two firms, with Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan blaming a ‘lack of professionalism’ at the companies for the failures; the official added that failure to comply with the DoT’s instructions would lead to ‘exemplary’ disciplinary action.

In a letter to the heads of BSNL and BBNL Ms Sundararajan requested weekly reports on punitive action taken against officials responsible for the failure in meeting targets, but the parties are disputing areas of jurisdiction and mechanisms for enforcement. BSNL claims that the lack of way to segregate faults in the network make it difficult to take action against officials, as the problems may fall outside of their area of responsibility. BBNL has attributed the lion’s share of the blame to BSNL, stating that the faults lie within the latter’s sphere of maintenance and utilisation. BSNL, for its part, has responded by stating that, whilst it would take strive to take action against failing officials it is only responsible for the optical fibre elements of the infrastructure. The operator added that it was also awaiting dues of INR6.17 billion (USD86 million) from sister firm BBNL.