BharatNet: On a long overdue deadline
Last month, when the government kicked off the second phase of the BharatNet project, it marked another timeline reset by another government. Yet again, there was a new timeline for this project that aims to deliver high-speed broadband to all 250,000-odd village panchayats for use by their residents. A momentum is building: the pace of work is increasing and telecom companies have started picking gram panchayats last month. Yet, judging by the pace of progress so far, BharatNet may struggle to meet its new deadline—March 2019—as well.
The several timelines
Both this government and the previous one have missed stated timelines. The BharatNet project was launched in October 2011, with a targeted completion date of October 2013. But it was only in March 2013 that the pilot itself started; it was only in December 2013 that the centre completed memorandums of understanding with all states barring Chandigarh, Haryana, Lakshadweep and Tamil Nadu; and it was in January 2015 that the first district was completed. In February 2015, this government set a timeline of three years, but this has now been reset to March 2019.
The overall progress
The pace of work has picked up in terms of cable laid between February 2015 and November 2016, and gram panchayats being made ‘service-ready’ between November 2016 and November 2017. As of November 2017, both cabling and gram panchayats being made service ready are at about 30%. In other words, the government has set itself the task to complete 70% of the work in 16 months.
The state picture
So far, only two states (Karnataka and Kerala) and two Union territories (Chandigarh and Puducherry) have made all their village panchayats service-ready. Three large states—Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh—have over 40% of gram panchayats, and as of November, only about one-third of them were service-ready.
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