Security forces who are fighting a tough battle in 10 LWE-affected states would never have felt so helpless and found their hands tied against the wall in their fight against Red ultras. DoT and USOF’s arbitrary and unjustified moves while dealing with phase II of LWE mobile tower project have led to deep despair in the Union Home Ministry, affected state governments and top bosses of police and para-military forces. To favour private companies, DoT and USOF is killing a telecom project and putting security forces at risk, writes Sandeep Joshi 

NEW DELHI, MARCH 20, 2018: The recent deadly Naxal attack in Sukma (Chhattisgarh) that claimed 9 CRPF men is an eye-opener about how Maoists are using technology to their advantage to attack security forces while red-tapism in the Department of Telecom (DoT) and its arm Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) is severely paralysing security forces to tackle the menace of Naxalism.

Investigating agencies have revealed that Maoists meticulously planned attack on CRPF convoy in Sukma after using inputs obtained by using internet regarding movement of troops and their strategy. Security experts are aghast over the fact that techonology is available to red ultras, but governments of 10 Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected states and security forces deployed in remote locations to counter Maoists have failed to get a proper telecom network that would boost preparedness of security forces to effectively tackle Naxalites.

Such is the sorry state of affairs in the Sanchar Bhawan that despite getting repeated reminders from Union Home Ministry, and letters from governments of LWE-affected states and top officials of police and paramilitary forces to Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, the phase II of 4,072 towers in 96 LWE-affected districts of 10 states is lying in limbo due to sheer negligence and undue delay by DoT and USOF who have to fund the project.

First it was the phase I of LWE tower project which got delayed for almost two years, and now it is phase II which is stuck as USOF wants to change original specification of 2G technology for voice to 2G plus 4G for data that will let Maoists run Apps like WhatsApp and other applications that cannot be tracked by security forces, thus giving tough time to them.

Despite hurdles from DoT and USOF, BSNL was able to set up a robust telecom network of 2200 towers with the help of indigenous vendors, which was praised by PMO, Union Home Ministry and State governments as it aided security forces in LWE-affected states to tackle the challenge posed by Naxals more effectively. It is on this pretext that the Home Ministry and State governments wanted number of towers to be increased. As a result, Home Ministry ordered installation of 4072 more towers without delay.

However, DoT sources allege that to serve interests of a few vendors/operators, USOF is pushing for change in technical specifications for phase II adding 4G technology for data services. It is being done with any cost evaluation or any kind of survey to understand the need for latest technology in remote, rural areas. It has not only escalated costs of project to a whooping Rs.7,330 crores (excluding taxes) but has also delayed that project by a minimum of 12 months. “The project is already running over one year behind schedule, and now changing technical specifications will mean delay of at least two years for the project from the time its was first approved by Home Ministry. The project will now need Union Cabinet clearance afresh,” a senior official said.

Ironically, adding 4G technology will also mean government-owned BSNL will not be able to participate in the project as it does not have 4G licence. “This clearly indicates that this was being done to favour private players who have 4G licence. They will be benefited at the cost of BSNL as public money will be doled out to private players to set up their infrastructure. Similar ploy was hatched in the  Northeastern states to benefit private players, and now all rules are being flouted to favour private companies by ignoring BSNL’s interest,” the official said.

But what is more worrying is that fact that Maoists will have the technology available which they will use to their advantage to target security forces. It will put security forces at greater risks of attack and surveillance, which means more casualty of security personnel and pose greater difficulty in planning a more effective strategy to tackle Naxalites. Apart from state governments and security forces, Election Commission of India has been demanding a robust telecom network in LWE-affected states for smooth conduct of election process, but it is now highly unlikely that a proper telecom network will be available before the 2019 general elections.

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