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Govt set to invite global bids for rural broadband project

The government said that the project will enable online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband.  (Photo: Pixelfusion)Premium
The government said that the project will enable online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband. (Photo: Pixelfusion)

  • BharatNet will execute the project through a public-private partnership in 361,000 villages
  • The 50,000 crore financial guarantee cover for new healthcare facilities was approved

NEW DELHI : India will soon invite global bids to bring broadband to 361,000 villages across 16 states in public-private partnership mode with government aid, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The new plan, which will be executed by state-run BharatNet through a public-private partnership, was cleared by the Union cabinet on Wednesday. The selected private player will set up, operate and maintain the network.

As per the plan, the project will be bundled into nine packages, each corresponding to one or more telecom circles, and no investor will be awarded more than four packages, said Prasad at a briefing on cabinet decisions. Prasad holds the portfolios of law and justice, telecom, electronics and information technology.

The cabinet also cleared parts of the 6.28 trillion economic package announced on Monday by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, which needed approval. This included the 19,041 crore viability gap funding for the village broadband connectivity programme. Another element of the economic relief package cleared by the cabinet is the 50,000 crore financial guarantee cover for opening new healthcare facilities or for expanding existing ones under the new ‘loan guarantee scheme for covid-affected sectors’. In the case of other sectors covered under the scheme, modalities will be cleared in due course.

The cabinet also cleared the 1.5 trillion addition to the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS). Also, the due date for businesses to register newly hired workers for provident fund contribution support from the government under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana has been extended. They get another nine months till 31 March 2022.

This move is expected to create 7.18 million jobs in the formal sector as against the earlier projection of 5.85 million. As on 18 June, 902 crore has been given to 2.14 million beneficiaries through 79,577 establishments under the scheme.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday approved the marquee 3.03 trillion power distribution company (discom) reform scheme, wherein the Centre’s share will be 97,631 crore.

The reforms-based results-linked power distribution sector scheme to be applicable till 2025-26 was announced in the Union budget presented earlier this year and will subsume programmes such as the Integrated Power Development Scheme and the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.

The funds will be released to discoms subject to them meeting reform-related milestones, with state-run Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) nominated as nodal agencies for the scheme’s implementation.

Mint reported about the contours of the scheme on 16 December last year. While announcing the relief package in the wake of second wave of coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister on Monday said that the Centre’s share towards the discom reform scheme will be 97,631 crore.

An official statement from the government said that Wednesday’s cabinet decision for broadband connectivity in 16 states covered Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The cabinet also accorded in-principle approval for extending BharatNet to all inhabited villages in the remaining states and Union territories. The department of telecommunication will separately work out the modalities for these remaining states and Union territories.

“It will enable online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband," the statement said.

Prasad explained that the cap of awarding a maximum of four packages to an investor will ensure there will be no monopoly in the project. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on 15 August last year announced that in 1,000 days, optical fibre broadband will be taken to every village. Already, the facility has been introduced in 156,000 villages out of the 250,000 villages targeted initially.

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