| Mahajan: Talking tough
New Delhi, Nov. 13: Communications minister Pramod Mahajan has set a December 31 deadline by when all private fixed-line operators must meet targets for establishing village public telephones that have been set out in their licence agreements.
Last month, Mahajan had said at a public forum that there was no question of fixing a deadline for the private operators to set up VPTs since the private operators had promised to fulfil commitments. Mahajan’s comment was made after he threatened in June to cancel the licences of operators that do not meet their VPT obligations.
But a recent letter sent to all private operators by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) states, “It has been observed that the progress of providing Village Public Telephones (VPTs) in your service area is very poor. As the target date for providing the committed VPTs is approaching very fast, you are requested to take immediate action to fullfil your roll-out obligation in respect of VPTs.”
Mahajan has already told all fixed-line operators to give government a time schedule by which they are likely to install VPTs in all the villages in their circle. This schedule has been given by the operators with the rider that they should get the fund from the Universal Service Obligation (USO) corpus.
Sources in the communications ministry added that the government was very serious and could undertake tough measures. “If they fail to meet the obligations, penalties could be imposed which includes the cancellation of licence and the takeover of their network.”
Mahajan has already asked BSNL to prepare a strategy paper to review and assess the progress on VPTs. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd has the necessary equipment to provide those links by using advanced equipment like Digital Satellite Phone Terminals (DSPTs), but it has refused to install the village public telephones in more than 500 ‘inaccessible’ villages in West Bengal, Bihar, North East and a few other states like Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal until it receives fund clearances from the finance ministry.
BSNL officials pointed out that “More than 70,000 VPTs had already been provided by us in the past year which was a record in itself and 40,000 more are expected to be installed in the next four months.”
Currently, villages have been provided with a VPT by using MARR system, underground cable, overhead lines and Inmarsat mini-m-terminals.
The government also plans to extensively use new technologies like C-DoT PMP systems as well as wireless in local loop (WLL) systems to meet VPT targets. The action plan will cover the technology mix, logistics management and the achievement of targets in a realistic time frame.