In a development that will further delay plans to beef up communications network in Naxal-affected areas, inter-ministerial body Telecom Commission on Thursday decided to re-tender the purchase of equipment for setting up mobile towers.
The project to set up mobile towers in the Naxal-affected areas was originally scheduled for completion by June but it got mired in differing cost estimates as the capex estimated by state-owned BSNL exceeded the budget estimates.
“We will re-tender the project in the coming 15 days as its cost is working out to be a bit higher right now,” said a source in the Department of Telecom.
State-owned telecom firm BSNL’s estimate for putting up mobile towers exceeded the project’s budget, approved by the Cabinet, by about Rs 789 crore.
The Cabinet had approved the proposal at a cost of about Rs 3,046 crore in nine states affected by Naxal violence soon after 27 people, including senior Congress leaders, were killed in a Maoist attack at Bastar in Chhattisgarh last year.
BSNL called for equipment tender last year but only two firms bid for the project, and foreign players stayed away as they found the cost estimates for work of that magnitude to be too low.
Sources said that even the bid cost was higher than estimates and so now the firm will re-tender for the equipment.
BSNL was mandated to set up the towers, the cost of which would be borne by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which is administered by the DoT.
The lack of telecom infrastructure in the 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 Maoist ultras.
On March 11, Naxals ambushed a security team killing 15 people in Chhattisgarh, in a chilling reminder of the 2010 massacre in which 76 security personnel were killed in the same area in the worst-—hit Sukma district.