Special Correspondent

Department of Telecommunication will provide alternative network for Defence forces

Rs.30,000 crore for rural telephony, broadband services

“I won’t influence the BSNL board’s decision”

CHENNAI: Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology A. Raja said on Saturday that the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) sanctioned Rs.1,600 crore for laying an optical fibre alternative network for the Defence forces so that they would be able to vacate 42.5 Mhz spectrum, including the 3G spectrum by September.

Addressing a press conference here, Mr. Raja said as soon as the spectrum was vacated, the DoT would be fully utilising its unspent funds to the tune of Rs.30,000 crore for rural telephony and broadband services within a stipulated period.

Right from the inception of the Telegraph Act, 1883 it had been believed that all the spectrum were vested with the Ministry of Defence, he said, adding that he had taken up the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, who was the chairman of the group of Ministers constituted for this purpose.

Explaining to them that the DoT was the “real owner of the spectrum,” he had stressed the need to bring under its domain the spectrum which had been lying unutilised for the past over 100 years. The Defence Ministry had also agreed to vacate the spectrum if it was provided with an alternative mode.

Mega tender

On the controversy over the mega tender called for the BSNL’s mobile network expansion project, Mr. Raja said at no juncture he had called for the revocation of the tender for the purchase of the 45.5 million cellular lines.

He had only asked the BSNL to renegotiate with the lowest bidder to see if the rates of the equipment could be brought down, besides ascertaining the possibility of financial re-bidding within a fortnight. He had done so as the rates of the equipment were higher than the rates offered to the MTNL and there had been complaints by some Members of Parliament and others that a few other bidders had been sidelined deliberately.

No political motive

He denied that there was any political motive behind the revelation on the deal. There was no inordinate delay in expressing his views on the issue as it took 10 days to go into the 2000-page file, he said.

Mr. Raja expressed anguish at the way the Joint Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations resorted to the one-day strike on July 11 despite the efforts made by him on July 9 and 10 to allay their apprehensions with regard to safeguarding the interest of the BSNL and its employees.

As a Minister, he had every right to raise queries about certain aspects of the deal. He made it clear that he approached the issue with an open mind and he would not influence the decision of the BSNL board. Mr. Raja said he had asked the BSNL to call tenders for a project to provide 60 million new lines in the next three months.

The Telecommunication Employees’ Progressive Union affiliated to the Labour Progressive Federation, through a resolution, condemned attempts to squarely blame Mr. Raja for the delay in the finalisation of the tender.

The Union also appreciated the Minister for his promise that efforts would be made to enable the BSNL to remain in full readiness to utilise the benefits of technological evolution in 2G/3G/WiMAX.

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