It took massacre of top Chhattisgarh Congress leaders for the Union Government to fast-track the ambitious project of setting up 2,199 mobile towers in nine Naxal-affected States which, according to Home Ministry, would give operational advantage to security forces while dealing with the menace of Left Wing Extremism (LWE).
Sources said Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal cleared the file pertaining to providing “mobile services in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism” in the past few days; and this file would now be placed at the next Cabinet meeting that will take place after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from his visit to Japan and Thailand later this week.
The ambitious project has been hanging fire for the past three years despite the Home Ministry pushing for it, first under the tenure of P. Chidambaram and now under Sushilkumar Shinde. The project has been long delayed mainly due to costing issues. First the Union Finance Ministry during Pranab Mukherjee’s raised objections over the cost structure of the project and later difference of opinion emerged between the Department of Telecommunications and Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), the body created to boost telecom connectivity in remote and backward areas that is funding the Rs.3000-crore project.
“After the Saturday’s massacre by Naxals in Chhattisgarh, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) top brass swung into action. The file regarding the project was summoned by Mr. Sibal and within three days he cleared it for the Cabinet’s approval. Though the Telecom Commission had given financial approval for the project in February this year, it took three months for the DoT bosses to give their final nod,” a senior DoT official said.
Of the 2,199 towers 782 will come up in Jharkhand, 497 in Chhattisgarh, 253 in Odisha, 227 in Andhra Pradesh, 184 in Bihar, 96 in West Bengal, 78 in Uttar Pradesh, 60 in Maharashtra and 22 in Madhya Pradesh. Central armed police forces as well as State police have been demanding setting up of mobile towers to help them in carrying out operations against the Naxals more effectively. Sources said within the next four to five months, the State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is likely to commence work on the project. Of the total amount, Rs.1,469 crore would go for setting up of 2,199 cellular towers, while around Rs.1,600 crore would be incurred on operating these towers over the next five years.