India avoided major embarrassment in January this year when it stopped road construction by Chinese army inside Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh near Line of Actual Control (LAC) and forced Chinese personnel to return. However, what is startling is the fact that it took Indian authorities 72-hours to detect major intrusion near Bishing village by Chinese forces with their road-building equipment operating two kilometers inside the Indian territory. It was failure of Indian communication mechanism that led to this fiasco.
We tell you how the Department of Telecom (DoT) and its arm — Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) — has failed miserably in building a robust telecom network in the strategically important Northeast despite getting Union Cabinet almost four years ago, writes Sandeep Joshi …
Bishing episode of Chinese intrusion inside LAC is a wake-up call for the Indian government. But more than that it is a matter of shame for the DoT and USOF for having failed to live up to the expectation of the people of the Northeast who have been demanding proper telecom network for past two decades.
While telecom network across the country has continued to grow, eight North-eastern states have lagged behind, thanks to the apathy of the DoT, USOF (which is responsible of providing funds to build telecom infrastructure in villages and remote areas) and the private telecom operators who are more concerned about their bottom-line and for them licence conditions of providing proper coverage in their telecom circles does not matter.
It was just months after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the proposal to implement a comprehensive telecom development plan for the North-Eastern region covering 8621 villages in eight states with an estimate of Rs.5,336 crores, with funds coming from USOF. Of this, around 2500 towers were to come up in remote villages of Arunachal Pradesh, three of which were approved for Bishing, where the Chinese intrusion took place.
Bishing village is located in Gelling tehsil of Upper Siang district in Arunachal Pradesh, India only 2 kms away from Chinese border. It is situated 80 kms away from sub-district headquarter Gelling and 280 kms away from district headquarter Yingkiong. The closest town to Bishing village is Tuting which is 40 kms away. There is no motorable road up to Bishing village, which is connected through a narrow walkable street that passes over Siang river which has two hanging bridges. As there is no connectivity, information can be exchanged only if person moves physically 80 kms or 40 kms.
According to locals in Bishing village near McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese personnel were caught doing track alignment work constructing a 12-feet wide road, 1-km in length by using heavy machinery. The work was going on in the remote area situated at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Though the area is manned by the ITBP, the track construction activity took place about 2 km away from the nearest ITBP post. It was only after a porter working in the area spotted the Chinese personnel, he managed to pass on the information to nearest civil administration only after 72 hours after he reached nearest town. Since there was no mobile communication, this delay in getting information about the Chinese intrusion has become a major source of embarrassment for the Indian army, ITBP and the civil administration.
It is now learnt that the senior officials of the Army and the ITBP have expressed their displeasure over undue delay by the DoT in getting mobile towers installed in villages close to the Chinese border. Defence Ministry, Army, Union Home Ministry and border paramilitary forces like the ITBP and the BSF have in the past written several letters to the DoT expressing concern over the delay in installation of robust mobile infrastructure along international borders.
Ironically, USOF, which has been mandated by the Union Cabinet to get mobile infrastructure installed in border and remote areas of the Northeast, has been sitting on this project for last four years. MPs from the Northeast including Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and Congress MP Ninong Ering, both hail from Arunachal Pradesh, have written to Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha expressing concern over undue delay in Northeast mobile connectivity project.
Telecom Ministry insiders told ICTFlash.com that all actions of the USOF indicate that it is trying to delay and sabotage the NE telecom project. “While USOF is trying to delay a part of the project which is to be implemented by BSNL by putting unnecessary conditions and delaying payments, the remaining portion of the project which is to be awarded to private operators several key norms have been compromised and tender conditions diluted to favour private companies,” said a senior DoT official who have been opposing the arbitrary and illegal manner in which USOF is implementing the project.
“The entire modus operandi of USOF in dealing in NE project reeks of favourtism. USOF is not only neglecting state-run BSNL but also openly violating laid government guidelines. Moreover, it is taking dubious decisions despite clear laid down policy of government,” the official said.
“The way USOF is implementing the ambitious NE project, is also a major setback for Prime Minister’s ‘Make In India’ initiative. BSNL is bound to implement preferential market access (PMA) policy allowing only domestic equipment manufacturer to bid in its project, but private operators are not bound by PMA. In Northeast, which shares crucial borders with China, foreign players, including Chinese companies, are being allowed to put up their equipment in gross negligence of national security interests,” the official added.
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