In an unusual proposal involving two public entities, the Common Service Centers (CSC) of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology offered to purchase a majority stake in Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), which reports to the telecommunications department of the ministry of communications -cations (DoT), according to sources familiar with the development.
The CSC is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) of the Ministry of Informatics, under which centers in rural areas provide various government services such as PAN and Aadhaar card making, registration for passport services and paying for electricity and other bills. BBNL, on the other hand, is an SPV of the Ministry of Communications and was formed for the smooth implementation of BharatNet, the central government flagship program to provide internet connectivity to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. from the country.
In the proposal sent directly to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) earlier this year, the CSC reportedly explicitly cited inefficiencies in the operation of BBNL as well as in the implementation of the BharatNet project as the reason for its proposal. He also said that for the on-time completion of the rural internet connectivity project, CSC must be “authorized to manage BBNL with majority ownership,” a source said. The Indian Express saw a copy of the proposal sent by CSC to PMO.
In its official response, CSC denied having “written a letter to PMO on the subject”, while BBNL said it was “not aware of any such letter written by CSC” and therefore would not wish to comment. the evolution of the situation. A letter requesting the PMO’s response to the proposal did not elicit a response until the time of going to press.
This is not, however, the first time that CSC and BBNL have found themselves at odds, especially regarding the implementation of BharatNet.
In May 2020, BBNL Chairman and CEO Sarvesh Singh wrote to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), alleging that CSC violated a tripartite agreement by moving equipment used for Internet connectivity from the latter. kilometer without informing BBNL and that this would hamper the provision of non-discriminatory access to all telecommunications and internet service providers.
For its part, CSC had defended its decision to relocate the equipment, alleging that in most cases the equipment for last mile connectivity was kept by BBNL in places where there was virtually no electrical connectivity or security.
Senior informatics ministry officials said at the time that the CSC’s decision was only intended to ensure continuous connectivity, which was hampered because, at times, the equipment – kept mostly in panchayat buildings or municipal schools. – was locked up by guards, who cut off the power and leave for the night. Later, in August 2020, the two agencies agreed to bury the hatchet and work together to complete the pending projects of BharatNet.
In July this year, however, BBNL state units, in their reports to the DoT, complained about the “substandard” work being done by the CSC on the Last Mile Internet Connectivity Project, which urged the DoT to write to the CSC and ask them to correct the flaws in the project as soon as possible.
The BharatNet project, which started as the National Fiber Optic Network in October 2011, has encountered multiple implementation issues to date, with several deadlines missed. In July of this year, the Center changed its approach, with the Union Cabinet approving a proposal to bring in the private sector to complete the ongoing work on BharatNet.
The implementation of BharatNet in PPP mode is estimated at Rs 29,432 crore, of which the government will spend Rs 19,041 crore to finance the sustainability gap. The government then said that the PPP model would initially be launched in Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal. Pradesh.