Mobile phones in the North-East running on Myanmarâ€™s mobile towers
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be going gung ho about his â€˜Digital Indiaâ€™ plans, but the unfortunate fact is that several parts in India’s far flung Northeast region are still deprived of basic mobile telecom connectivity. So much so that people in many towns and villages in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram bordering Myanmar have to depend on mobile tower signals emanating from across the border.
Though the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has chalked out plans to put up over 6,600 towers in eight Northeastern states, despite floating tenders last year, not an inch has moved, thanks to dilly-dallying tactics of DoT officials who have been endlessly evaluating tender processes and dealing with technical specification issues, as per sources in the Department.
Peeved by the slow process of strengthening telecom infrastructure which it is also hurting security preparedness of security forces deployed in several disturbed areas of the Northeast, Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has written to Telecom Secretary J.S. Deepak seeking urgent action on the matter.
Significantly, Mr. Mehrishi has pointed out that â€œlack of adequate cellular coverage in the region has brought a sense of discontentment amongst the youth and general public who despite having means are deprived of benefits of modern means of communicationâ€.
In his letter, the Union Home Secretary has stated that â€œan analysis of the region reveals that there are communication voids in the areas along the Indo-Myanmar international border especially in the southern Arunachal Pradesh, south-eastern Nagaland, west and southern Manipur and southern Mizoram.â€
â€œIt has also been observed that certain sections of society utilize the spill-over signals from Myanmar Telephone Service Providers in the border areas. As reach of such signals is limited, the communications in the region remain inadequate,â€ he has said, and promised Ministry of Home Affairs â€œall necessary help in terms of coordination with State Governments to facilitate creation of (telecom) infrastructureâ€.
The MHA has suggested that the DoT can ask state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to immediately set up mobile towers along the international border by utilizing the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), a corpus funded by all mobile operators and created to set up telecom infrastructure in remote locations. The MHA has also asked the DoT to replicate the model adopted in seven Naxal-affected areas where almost 4,000 mobile towers were set up by using the USOF which has helped in effective tackling the Left wing extremism.
There are 8,621 uncovered villages in the eight Northeastern states â€“ Arunachal Pradesh (2805), Assam (2503), Meghalaya (2374), Manipur (528), Mizoram (252), Nagaland (134), Sikkim (23) and Tripura (2). For this, the DoT has envisaged setting up 6,673 towers in these eight states with an investment of Rs.4,770 crores. The DoT has also earmarked Rs.270 crores for setting up 321 mobile towers for providing telecommunication coverage along the National Highways in the region. But all these projects have been stuck for the past several months due to delays in finalizing the tender process.
(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist)”