Peeved at the delay in the rollout of the highly secure ‘optic fibre cable’ (OFC) network, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has charged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) with failing to provide a dedicated telecom network, affecting “critical defence communications.”
The Directorate-General of Signals at the Integrated Headquarter of the MoD (Army) has raised concerns over the delay in laying the OFC network even 40 months after getting the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI).
The network was part of an agreement signed between the DoT and the Defence Ministry in 2009. Under this deal, the DoT had promised to build an exclusive cable network for the defence forces in return for vacation of spectrum by the Defence Ministry.
“You may well appreciate that post release of 40 MHz of spectrum by the MoD, critical defence communications have been affected. The project was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure on December 3, 2009, with a mandate to roll out the defence network in 36 months. However, 40 months down the line, there is no progress,” Lt. General S.P. Kochar, Signal Officer-in-Chief and Senior Colonel Commandant at the MoD’s Integrated Headquarter, said in a letter to DoT Secretary M.F. Farooqui.
The Defence Ministry had released 40 MHz of spectrum for expansion of mobile services, including 3G, on assurance that the DoT would provide it an alternative, secure communication network. The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited was entrusted with the task of rolling out this cable system. The tender for laying the network has been cancelled thrice. Procedural delays and a flawed tendering process have pushed back the Rs.7,000-crore OFC project.
BSNL has not been able to close the tender for procuring optical cable. It floated the tender in January 2010 but this was cancelled. A fresh tender was called for in November 2012, which has also been cancelled, documents available with The Hindu show. Over a dozen companies had expressed interest in this strategically important project that would connect Army, Air Force and Navy installations.
According to the MoD’s letter, the Telecom Ministry is delaying the project on the grounds that some part of it should be reserved for state-owned Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) but the issue was settled in 2010 when it was decided that quota will not apply to the defence network. However, the letter pointed out that the issue has again been raised by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology on February 15, 2013, leading to delay in the project.