Telecom panel to discuss towers in Naxal areas in March-end

The Telecom Commission, an inter- ministerial panel, is likely to meet this month-end to discuss the issue of installing mobile towers in naxal-affected areas in nine states.

"The DoT committee studying the subject is expected to submit its report next week. The Telecom Commission should probably meet in last week of this month," a Department of Telecom (DoT) official told PTI.

Soon after a Maoist attack at Bastar in Chhattisgarh, in which 27 people, including senior Congress leaders were killed last year, the Cabinet had approved setting up mobile towers at a cost of around Rs 3,046 crore in nine states affected by naxal violence to improve communication in those areas.

Naxals last week had ambushed a security team killing 15 people in Chhattisgarh, in a chilling reminder of the 2010 massacre in which 76 security personell were killed in the same area in the worst-hit Sukma district.

The mobile towers, which have been a long-pending demand of the Home Ministry, will strengthen the telecom network in areas facing security challenges.

These areas are spread across nine states -- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.

The project was to be completed by June but its progress is stuck due to wrong estimates by the Department of Telecom, sources said.

State-owned BSNL was asked to set up towers at 2,199 locations in the nine states in 12 months from the date CCEA approved the project.

The state-run telecom firm has brought this "arithmetical error" to the DoT's notice and omission of other necessary equipment for rolling out the project.

There is a difference of about Rs 789 crore between the actual requirement submitted by BSNL and the project budget approved by the Cabinet, according to sources.

The Telecom Commission has to take a call on it and due to higher revised estimates and inclusion of certain items, the project may have to be again placed before Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, sources said.

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