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|April 28, 1999||
In order to put telephones in every Indian village, the Department of Telecommunications had drawn up a plan to involve telephone companies from the private sector.
But now that plan seems to be destined for the refuse bin.
Recently, the government broke DoT's monopoly over basic telephony services and allowed participation from the private sector.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications (1998-99) has asked DoT to thoroughly review its policy of allotting villages without a telephone network to private telephone companies.
The committee suggests that DoT, instead, work out an alternative plan to reach telephones to all villages by 2002 on its own if private operators fail.
The committee made these recommendations in the 13th report that was presented to the dissolved Lok Sabha.
The report suggests that a timeframe should be set for the private companies in which they would have to fulfil their contractual obligation. And in case of any breach of contract regarding the timeframe, penal action should be taken.
The committee backed its strong recommendations by claiming that the performance of the private telephone companies has been poor regarding their responsibility of reaching telephones to 67,000 villages during the Ninth Plan period.
In this context, the report pointed out that in Madhya Pradesh private operators could not provide even a single village public telephone in spite of a contractual obligation of providing 10 per cent of their installed capacity in rural areas.
The committee expressed surprise that DoT has not prescribed any time limit for taking penal action against the private operators for such non-performance.
The committee 'was distressed to observe' that of the 309,203 village public telephones commissioned in December 1998, 25,570 remain out of order and 13,736 have been disconnected due to non-payment of dues.
The committee charged that although DoT is said to be taking a number of measures, the arrangements in this regard seem to be grossly inadequate.
The committee expressed concern over the telecom secretary's admission of the unsatisfactory maintenance of village telephones and his colleagues' submission that on an average 15 per cent of the village telephones are found faulty at any given time due to negligence of maintenance and misuse of battery.
The committee called upon DoT to strengthen its monitoring system to ensure that there is no negligence in maintenance and no misuse of battery, that faults are attended to promptly and directions issued from the headquarters adhered to at field levels.
Telecom policy criticised
Besides, the report claims that certain measures proposed in the new telecom policy may adversely affect DoT's overall resource position.
It claims that initiatives like the corporatisation of DoT and the likely impact of the rebalanced tariff will severely limit the capacity of the department to undertake the massive developmental programme ahead of it.
Referring to the new telecom policy, the report points out that the policy document, among other things, envisages telephone on demand by 2002 and sustaining it thereafter so as to achieve teledensity of 7 per 1,000 of the population by 2005 and 15 by 2010.
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