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Tender dispute stalls BSNL's rural telephony project

Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi , Oct. 6

BHARAT Sanchar Nigam Ltd's rural telephony programme has hit a snag with its satellite-based phone project being referred to the Disputes Settlement Committee under the Union Cabinet.

The roadblock comes in the wake of the state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), one of the bidders for the Rs 150-crore project, raising objections to BSNL for awarding the contract to Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd (HFCL).

Though HFCL had emerged as the lowest bidder, BEL raised questions on its eligibility to meet the roll out conditions of the tender. Industry sources said that HFCL had bid for the project claiming that it would deploy Israel-based satellite communications company Gilat's technology called `DialAw@yIP+'.

The proposed technology, BEL said, has not been deployed anywhere in the world previously. This would be in violation of BSNL's tender condition that stipulates a minimum of 4,500 installations by the bidding companies.

BSNL officials defended its decision to award the contract to HFCL on grounds that a controversy was being unnecessarily raised because the technology being offered by Gilat was an enhanced version of its DialAw@y IP technology which has more than the required installations.

Gilat, on its part, clarified that the product offered was an enhanced version of DialAw@y IP and is the outcome of several years of experience in rural telephony.

"While the fundamental technology is the same, the newer version offers enhanced features to meet the market demand," they contended.

Mr Mahendra Nahata, Chairman, HFCL Group, said: "The tendering process was done in a completely transparent manner. We were awarded the project after our bids were scrutinised technically and financially. However, if companies, which lost the bid, decide to raise a controversy unnecessarily, then they are free to do so."

The project involves rolling out 18,000 phone lines in remote areas of the country. Other companies that bid for the project include Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) and ICOMM. While ITI too was offering Gilat's technology, BEL and ICOMM were riding on Hughes Network System's `Direcway' technology.

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