India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will reportedly call on a minimum of two operators to roll out mobile infrastructure in nine states where there is a sizeable Maoist presence by the early part of 2012. According to India’s Economic Times, the regulator has also come to a decision not to reserve a slot for state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) after the telco said that it would not participate in the project unless it was received a 100% subsidy for the project from the country’s Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). BSNL will, however, be free to take part in the bidding process for the project.
The decision by the DoT comes after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced it was broadening the scope of the strategic mobile communications rollout in Naxalite-Maoist areas of the country. The MHA has reportedly said that it now wants operators to initially offer comprehensive mobile coverage in at least 60 districts across the nine states that are to be covered by the project. The state department has claimed that the absence of adequate telecommunications links in these regions has exacerbated the Maoist problems.
According to the report, a number of districts have been identified as being affected by ‘acute left wing extremism’, in part as a result of remaining outside of mobile voice coverage. As many as 15 districts in Orissa have been pinpointed as problem areas, while 14 in Jharkhand, ten in Chhattisgarh, eight in Madhya Pradesh, seven in Bihar, two each in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and one each in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have been flagged. It is understood that plans are also under consideration to include a further 18 remote districts across the nine states in the rollout plan, including Purulia and Bankura, which are part of the famous 8,000 sq km Junglemahal Maoist corridor in West Bengal. An unnamed senior official at the DoT was cited as saying of the latest strategy: ‘The mobile coverage plan has virtually doubled for security reasons. Originally, the government was focusing on Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, but now it is looking at a potential 78 Maoist-prone districts across nine states. As a result, we will require multiple operators in each of these states.’