Finally, better sense has prevailed! Prime Minister Narendra Modi did exactly what he is best known for — to reward performers and boot out laggards.
This is exactly what happened with Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Administrator Sanjay Singh who was unceremoniously shunted out of the Telecom Ministry for his incompetence and for repeatedly stalling flagship telecom projects of the Narendra Modi government.
What damage Sanjay Singh did to India’s crucial telecom projects, and what the DoT needs to do on war-footing to regain the confidence of the Prime Minister, read on…
The Narendra Modi government began with a bang as far as the story of India’s telecom sector goes. Apart from consolidating India’s global leadership position in mobile and internet market besides providing world’s cheapest telecom services, the Modi government immediately put on fast-track crucial telecom infrastructure projects which had been hanging fire during the Manmohan Singh government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately cleared and demanded speedy implementation of three crucial projects — comprehensive telecom development plan for the North-Eastern region covering eight states with an estimate of Rs.5,336 crores; expansion of mobile towers in Naxal-affected states; mega connectivity projects for Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Ladakh region; and strategically important connectivity telecom connectivity project along International borders with special emphasis on Indo-China borders.
Since USOF is the arm of Telecom Ministry for funding such crucial projects, the task was assigned to its Administrator Sanjay Singh to ensure that all these projects were completed before the term of BJP-NDA government came to an end.
But as the story goes, Mr. Singh proved to be the biggest hurdle in smooth start of all telecom infrastructure projects. So much so that he was referred to as “The Tender Man” within the Sanchar Bhawan circles for repeatedly calling tenders after tenders and then cancelling them or calling for re-tendering on his whims and fancies. Sanchar Bhawan insiders say that he violated all laid norms and procedures, did everything possible to delay projects and even did not keep Telecom Minister and Telecom Secretary and other key officials in loop while carrying out his diktats.
Take example of the North-East telecom project. The manner Sanjay Singh in which worked against the interests of state-owned BSNL to favour private operators; the manner in which he delayed the project for over two years by tendering and re-tendering and using technology issue by bypassing even the Cabinet; the manner in which he blatantly favoured a private operator who failed to comply with licence conditions — all this led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi missing a chance to impress people of North-East by smoothly rolling out mobile connectivity in eight NE states.
Similarly, the fate of crucial Andaman & Nicobar Islands project also hangs in balance. Here also Sanjay Singh has betrayed the people of A&N Islands, the PMO and the Telecom Ministry by not completing the tender process on time. Same is the story of mobile network expansion in the 10 Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected states where despite repeated requests from Union Home Ministry and state governments there is no headway in the project. Similarly, virtually no progress has been made in providing connectivity to Ladakh region and also to towns and villages along Indo-China border in other states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Sanjay Singh worked in a clandestine manner, so much so that on several occasions Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha and Telecom Secretary Aruna Sunderarajan had to reprimand him for stalling key telecom projects which were under the direct radar of the PMO. The PMO also had been receiving letters after letters from state governments and MPs from states where these telecom infrastructure are to come up. On numerous occasions MPs had raised the issue in Parliament regarding poor implementation of telecom projects. Even the BJP MPs like Nishikant Dubey had cornered their own government for the delay and had written against Sanjay Singh to the Telecom Minister.
Now with the shunting of Sanjay Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have taken the matter into his own hands. Mr. Modi, who is known for his no-nonsense style of governance, has once again given the clear message to the top echelons of the Telecom Ministry — perform or perish.
The challenge before the PMO and the Telecom Ministry is to regain the confidence of the people of North-Eastern states and also of the LWE-affected states and other states and regions where all major telecom projects have been stalled by putting all projects on fast-track. It is learnt from the government sources that the new USO Administrator comes to the Telecom Ministry with the clear mandate of implementing all stalled projects before Mr. Modi goes to the public to seek a fresh mandate a few months from now. Telecom Secretary Aruna Sunderarajan is also learnt to be feeling much relieved from the exit of USOF Administrator Sanjay Sanjay who had remained a permanent hindrance in letting the Department of Telecom work in fulfilling the task assigned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It is worth mentioning here that ICTFlash has been persistently raising the issue of how USOF Administrator Sanjay Singh had become a major hurdle in implementing telecom projects that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was keen to get implemented. A sample of these stories highlighting the failure on part of the USOF Administrator Sanjay Singh is listed below —
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