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Centre suggests N-E telecom plan

- National Advisory Council wants govt to treat the service as essential in the region

Guwahati, Nov. 30: The Centre has recommended a telecom plan exclusively for the Northeast in the Twelfth Plan.

The working group on development of the northeastern region, set up under the National Advisory Council under the Prime Minister’s Office last year, in a report submitted early this month has suggested that a separate comprehensive telecom plan be prepared for the Northeast with clear timelines for completion of projects. The council is an important policy-making body chaired by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

“Given the importance of this sector to other sectors of development, it is recommended that the government needs to look at telecom services in the Northeast as an essential service and not as an obligation,” the report says.

As the Northeast was a late starter in wireless and broadband technology, it is lagging behind the rest of the country in telecom connectivity. The council says the department of telecommunications and BSNL may adopt “farthest first” principle and give priority to the Northeast vis-a-vis the rest of the country in completing projects under a dedicated plan and, if necessary, additional senior manpower may be posted in the region.

The report provides statistics showing that this sector has not been given its due in the region. Thus, the actual expenditure incurred by the department of telecommunications has never exceeded the mandatory 10 per cent of the gross budgetary support allocation for the Northeast over the last five years. “During 2010-11, the utilisation is 61.79 per cent only, which is very low and reflects a lack of plan activity,” the report says. The 10 per cent gross budgetary support allocation for the Northeast is not the upper ceiling and the department of telecommunications may exceed it if required, it adds.

The plan emphasises the importance of providing telecom connectivity in the rural and inaccessible remote areas of the Northeast where market mechanism has been found to be inadequate. If necessary, it says, the Universal Service Obligation funds may step in. According to the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, (amended in 2003 and 2006), Universal Service Obligation is defined as access to telegraph service for people in rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable prices.

In some states of the Northeast, microwave technology is most suitable because of the hilly terrain but royalty charges for point-to-point microwave links are very high. The committee recommends that the Centre may consider subsidising royalty charges for the region so that this technology can be deployed on a large scale.

On the Bharat Broadband Network connecting all panchayats, the performance in the Northeast is not good as only 38.5 per cent panchayats have been connected, the reports says. On digging of roads at frequent intervals, which is the prime cause of telecom disruptions other than natural calamities, it is found that there is a severe lack of coordination among multiple agencies and a uniform policy to lay secure fibre optic cables is missing. The committee recommends that any future work in the region should be well coordinated among the agencies concerned and they should also take the views of the state governments.