New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Narendra Modi government today cleared a Rs 3,568-crore project to set up towers to improve cellphone services in Maoist-affected zones, which was mooted by the UPA two years ago but allowed to hang fire.
The plan will cover 2,199 locations in 10 states, including Bengal, where the threat from the guerrillas has meant patchy services, hindering administration and development.
As the CPI (Maoist) is known to target such towers, the Centre has drawn up plans for protection. Fortified police pickets at the towers and fencing are among the measures planned.
“The cabinet has approved setting up of 1,836 new transmission towers in Left-wing extremist-affected districts. People in these areas and security forces have asked to improve mobile connectivity,” telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said today after the cabinet cleared the plan.
The other states included in the initiative are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh.
The project will be executed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). The public sector company has already installed towers at 363 of the locations.
The expenses will be met from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) — a government-managed kitty to which all telecom operators contribute a fixed sum from their revenues. The USOF was created to expand services to areas where operators are not present or where service providers find the business unviable.
The idea is not new, though. In 2012, the home and telecom ministries wanted BSNL to execute the “sensitive” project but the finance ministry objected saying USOF rules allowed only service providers selected through open bidding. The ministry also deemed the cost too high.
The home ministry countered the bidding argument by asserting that only a public sector unit should be involved because of the sensitivity of the project and the areas. As finance minister, P. Chidambaram pushed for the project later but the cost quibbles persisted.
Under the plan cleared today, BSNL will execute the project, though equipment will be provided by private players.