Project dogged by issues of cost between the Universal Service Obligation Fund and BSNL

An important project of the UPA government to install mobile towers in nine Naxal-affected States covering remote and backward villages is still stuck in the Department of Telecommunications despite Cabinet clearance last year.

“Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is personally monitoring the issue as there has been an undue delay of over three years since the project was first conceived. Mr. Shinde will take up the issue with Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and also seek Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention in getting it cleared,” a senior official involved in the project told 'The Hindu.

Mr. Sibal wanted to get this “development” project launched by Dr. Singh and Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi just before the general election. However, it is unlikely that the Congress leadership will get to flag it off now, with a high possibility of the model code of conduct coming into force early next month.

Despite Mr. Sibal fast-tracking it immediately after the massacre of the Chhattisgarh Congress leadership in May last, the project is stuck in the Telecom Commission, the DoT’s decision-making body, over issues of cost between the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) that is financing the project and BSNL, which will implement it through vendors. A Telecom Commission meeting, scheduled for last week, to decide on the project was postponed to next month, DoT sources said.

The Cabinet had last June approved Rs. 3,046 crore for installing 2,199 mobile towers in the Left-Wing Extremism-affected States mainly to aid security personnel deployed there and set a 12-month deadline for completing it.

Significantly, BSNL came out with a tender for the project in September without even signing an agreement with the USOF.

The tendering process is already in advanced stage but the costing issue may further delay the project. BSNL wants some additional components, added by the USOF, scaled down, besides waiver of tax being imposed on it in order to bring the project cost close to what has been approved by the Cabinet, government sources said.

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