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Failure to fulfil rural telephony obligations -- Mahajan pulls up pvt

G. Rambabu

NEW DELHI, Jan. 3

THE Union Communications Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, has pulled up the private basic operators for failing to fulfil their rural telephony obligations and sought a detailed roll-out plan regarding their coverage of the pending 60,000 villages in their circles of operation.

According to sources, at a meeting held today with the private basic operators who had defaulted on their obligations - Bharti Telenet, Shyam Telelink, Hughes Tele.com, Tata Teleservices and Reliance Telecom - the Minister noted that without such a roll-out plan, there was no question of granting them further concessions.

On the whole across the country, 4.12 lakh villages have been provided with telecom facility till now.

As many as 1.95 lakh villages remain uncovered, out of which the obligation of the private operators stands close to 60,000.

Among them, Bharti Telenet tops the list, having left 23,308 villages uncovered in Madhya Pradesh.

It is followed by Shyam Telelink (14,791 villages in Rajasthan), Hughes Tele.com (10,926 villages in Maharashtra), Tata Teleservices (6,059 villages in Andhra Pradesh) and Reliance Telecom (4,202 villages in Gujarat).

Mr Mahajan noted that while Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) had been diligently going about its task of covering rural areas, the private operators had shown no inclination to do so. This would not be tolerated, especially since the Telecom Policy '99 had committed to covering the entire country by the end of December 2002.

Private operators could not shirk their responsibility by taking refuge under financial concessions.

The question of giving them access to the USO funds and other issues that they had been demanding would be discussed only after they gave their monthly roll-out plans for the current year.

Sources noted that the Minister also disapproved of the practice by the operators to pay liquidated damages instead of any commitment to fulfiling their obligations. He said that BSNL alone could not be burdened with the ``unremunerative'' services, especially after they had promised to do so while applying for their licences.

In this context, it may be noted that the uneconomic social obligations of public sector giant, BSNL, for providing basic telecom services across the country had been estimated at Rs 10,000 crore per annum over the next five years.

While the urban unremunerative services would set it back by Rs 7,000 crore per annum, its obligations in the rural areas (including provision of village public telephones) would cost the company between Rs 3,000 crore and Rs 4,000 crore per annum.

Although BSNL was corporatised in October last year, it continues to be burdened with the task of servicing the unremunerative areas and is left with no option, even in areas where the private fixed service providers have been operating.

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