Charted: India’s much-hyped BharatNet project is falling short

Into the future.
Into the future.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
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India’s dream to bring internet connectivity to every nook and cranny is an ongoing— but very slow—process.

In her budget speech on Feb. 2, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated a massive Rs6,000 crore($842 million) to the BharatNet scheme for 2020-21, with the aim of connecting fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) to 100,000 gram panchayats (GPs), or village councils, this year itself.

However, the numbers and promises are rosier than the action on the ground, even the government admitted. There are delays in implementation on account of three obstacles, communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad shared in a Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) answer on Jan. 5:

(i) Delay in the initial commencement of the project as the work on the project began in the second half of 2014 due to field survey of GPs and pilot testing of the technology model.

(ii) In Phase-I, only one media that is underground OFC (optic fibre cable) to cover GPs, and Right of Way (RoW) issues.

(iii) Under Phase-II, about 65,000 GPs in 8 States are being implemented under state-led model, and delay in their implementation is also adversely affecting the completion of the project.

The initial deadline for connecting all 250,000 councils was March 2019, but only 118,000 had been connected by then. Now, Shankar says the goalpost has moved to August 2021.

Additionally, laying down the infrastructure isn’t the end of the woes. In many of the states where wifi hotspots have been installed, most of them aren’t even active.

“BharatNet is a project of mega nature and the GPs are widely dispersed across the country in rural and remote areas. All out efforts are being made to expeditiously implement the project,” Shankar said. So far, nearly Rs20,000 crores have been disbursed.

Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, among the biggest states in the country, have received the most BharatNet funds so far, Prasad said in response to the question about BharatNet’s status raised by Telangana member of parliament (MP) Nalamada Uttam Kumar Reddy.