USOF’s push for adopting latest mobile technology instead of the basic one in 10 Left Wing Extremism-affected states is not only delaying the phase-II of the mobile tower project and hiking its cost steeply, it is also putting security of forces deployed in these violence-hit states into jeopardy…
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 21, 2017: Ignoring serious security implications, the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) under the DoT is pushing for technology upgradation in new mobile towers that are to be set up in 10 Naxal-affected states. USOF, which is funding the project, has also ignored the Cabinet approval which has okayed setting up of over 2,726 towers as this upgradation will hike the project cost by up to 75% and make it economically unviable, thus leading to sheer waste of public money.
In a recent letter to Jaideep Govind, Ministry of Home Affairs’ Additional Secretary (Left Wing Extremism), USOF Administrator Sanjay Singh has stated that “since provision of data connectivity has certain security implications, it is requested that MHA may kindly give their comments regarding the inclusion of specifications for data connectivity (2G/4G) for phase II of the project (in LWE affected areas).”
Such is the desperation on part of the USOF to push for latest technology without considering its security and financial issues that it further states in its letter: “Keeping in view the importance of the project and the urgency of its implementation, MHA’s response is requested, in the absence of this, it would be presumed that MHA agrees to the inclusion of data connectivity in the specification for phase II of the project”.
Explaining “security implications”, a senior MHA official said upgrading network for data usage will make security forces deployed in remote locations in Moaist-infested areas vulnerable as ultras will be able to use applications like WhatsApp and Skype which is hard to intercept. “Calls and SMS are easy to intercept and this was the reason why 2G towers were installed in phase I. It has given excellent results as we have been able to contain and counter the Maoists. But giving Naxalites access to high speed data by deploying latest technology means they will misuse upgraded mobile network to target security forces and weaken our security preparedness. We have been facing this problem in Jammu and Kashmir as we have to disconnect data in times of anti-terrorist operations. We will face same situation in Naxal-affected areas,” the official said.
DoT officials have also objected to USOF’s move as this is not only delaying the project but also raising costs which the government might not be able to recover due to low usage of data in villages and remote areas. A senior DoT official involved in the project said: “Under phase-I, 2,199 mobile towers were installed with an expenditure of over Rs.3,500 crore in 10 LWE-affected states. The successful implementation of the project led to boost in security preparedness of forces deployed in rural and remote areas, a fact which has been appreciated by all state governments. It also led to bringing rural, tribal people into mainstream and quick implementation of government welfare schemes. Buoyed by the response, the PMO, the Home Ministry and concerned state governments started pushing for phase II. But USOF devised yet another way to delay the project in the name of evaluating the installed mobile network in phase I and completing ignoring success reports by union and state government agencies including security forces.”
“Due to this technology upgradation issue the fate of phase II is hanging in balance for almost 12 months even as LWE-affected state governments continue to write to PMO, MHA and DoT to immediately begin work on it. Upgrading technology will increase the cost of installing towers manifold. Moreover, when optic fibre cables are being laid in remote areas for better data connectivity, what purpose will upgrading towers serve except for making our forces vulnerable,” the official said.
According to Home Ministry, there are 106 districts across 10 States which have been identified by the government as the Naxal affected districts across states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The project was first approved by the Cabinet in June 2013 after a Maoist attack at Bastar, Chattisgarh in which 27 people, including senior Congress leaders, were killed. It was again sent for the Cabinet approval due to change in cost structure and was cleared in August 2014.
STATE-WISE MOBILE TOWERS INSTALLED IN LWE-AFFECTED STATES IN PHASE-I
|State||Locations identified by MHA||Existing BSNL Towers (for OPEX)|
- 2185 sites are radiating as on 12.12.2016. This includes 1829 new sites and 356 existing sites made operational by BSNL.
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