DoT’s plan to get mobile towers installed in LWE-affected states evaluated by IIT-Mumbai is being seen as delaying tactics by Ministry of Home Affairs who wants phase-II of the project being taken up without wasting any time due to security concerns

It is famously said in the bureaucratic circles that if you want to kill or delay a project, sent it for technical evaluation or study. A similar thing seems to be happening in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) these days which is mulling study and evaluation of mobile network recently deployed in the 10 Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected states, a step which is going to delay the second phase of 2,726 mobile tower installation in these states.

While the security forces and state police forces want the second phase of the project of installing around 2,700 more mobile towers in the Naxal-affected states to be taken up without any delay, the DoT now wants to get the mobile towers evaluated by IIT-Mumbai’s Prof. A. Karandikar of the Electrical Engineering Department and has also earmarked a budget of Rs.61-lakhs for the study that would take six months.

But this development has not gone down well with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as security forces want mobile connectivity to be improved in 10 Naxal-affected states at the earliest. Buoyed by the response from the first phase of the project where 2,199 mobile towers were installed with an expenditure of over Rs.3500 crore, the PMO and the MHA is no mood to delay the project. Government sources said the PMO was not happy with the delay in the project and it could be one of the major reasons why Telecom Secretary J.S. Deepak was shunted out last week.

The Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) under the DoT which is funding the project wants Prof. Karandikar to “study and evaluate the deployed mobile services technology in LWE affected under the USOF Project…The study also aims at evaluating the efficacy technology and proposes appropriate modifications (if any) in specifications of the solution/technology in the future USOF funded schemes for provisioning of mobile services in LWE areas”.

What has baffled senior authorities in the MHA, which wants installation of new 2,726 towers to be taken up in the second phase, is that when the DoT has many expert organisations for such work then what is the need for engaging any external body. “The DoT has the Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) cells, it has the Centre of Development and Telematics, the Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd and the Telecom Centres of Excellence, then what is the need for an external agency carrying out the evaluation work. Moreover, all technical evaluations were done when the first phase was being implemented a few months ago. So what is the need for another round of study and evaluation,” asked a senior Home Ministry official.

MHA sources said the installation of mobile towers in remote areas of 10 LWE-affected states – Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal – has led to better security preparedness. As a result Naxal attacks have come down. Significantly, improved mobile connectivity has also improved government interface with the people which has led to more and more government-sponsored schemes reaching to the masses. The visible social and economic impacts of better mobile connectivity have also been appreciated by the PMO.

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