The government plans to complete the BharatNet project, which envisages broadband internet connection for 2.5 lakh village panchayats, within the next one-and-a-half years.
However, this target seems impractical considering the current pace at which the one half of the work was completed — five years, as per data provided by the Ministry of Communications
The government has allocated ₹6,000 crore for the scheme. So far, ₹19,595 crore has been spent on the scheme since its inception.
About ₹5,600 crore was spent in 2016-17. In the next two years, the government spent an additional ₹10,460 crore on the project. Out of ₹6,000 crore outlay only, ₹2,000 crore was actually spent in 2019-20, as per the revised estimates of the Budget. While the expenditure is plummeting, the targets have rising.
Out of the total expenditure over the past five years, ₹5,281 crore was given to service providers and consultants — BSNL and TCIL — respectively.
The remaining ₹14,313 crore was distributed among states as per their requirements, with Maharashtra receiving the most at ₹1,933 crore.
Work done so far
The government claims to have laid around 4 lakh kilometres of cables across the country. Around half of the gram panchayats, which is about 1.34 lakh of the estimated 2.5 lakh, are service ready, as per the ministry data.
Along with broadband connections, WiFi hotspots are also being installed in panchayats for faster and better internet connectivity. Around 45,769 gram panchayats have the hotspots installed while only a third or 18,000 are active.
Delay in implementation
The delay in initial commencement of work was cited to be one of the reasons that hindered the implementation of the project. Also, the laying of OFCs as well as Right of Way — issues related to permissions of an underground work — were also said to have affected implementation.
A sarpanch in Karmala taluka of Solapur district in Maharashtra told The Federal that they recently got the optical cable connection to the gram panchayat office but “the connection is yet to be activated.”
He mentioned that there have been some issues while laying the cable underground. “The water pipe was damaged at some points which caused a delay,” he said, adding that they were now looking forward to its completion.