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DPIIT puts Tamil Nadu Bharatnet tender on hold after bid rigging allegation

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade on Friday put Tamil Nadu’s implementation of Bharatnet on hold after receiving bid rigging complaints. “It has been considered that the bidding conditions incorporated by TANFINET [Tamil Nadu’s Bharatnet implementation agency] in the bidding documents are restrictive and discriminatory in nature,” the DPIIT said in a memo on Friday. Local telecom equipment maker Tejas Networks and the Telecom Equipment Promotion Council were also described as complainants in the issue in the memo, which instructed TANFINET to invite bids anew with non-restrictive terms.

Bharatnet is a union-state government collaborative project that was devised to get WiFi and fixed line broadband connectivity in gram panchayats across India. It was initially started as the National Optical Fibre Network in 2011, and has still not been implemented nationally. In the meantime, wireless broadband prices in India fell to their lowest in history, perhaps anywhere in the world.

The TANFINET December 2019 tender, which was worth Rs 1,950 crore to be spent over seven years, was accused of tailoring its requirements to rig the bid in favor of two companies. Arappor Iyakkam, a nonprofit that has complained about the issue alongside domestic companies, said that terms for the tender that were introduced in April 15 as a corrigendum — months after an earlier version of the tender was approved by the Tamil Nadu Investment Promotion Board. The nonoprofit said that the terms discriminated against “Systems Integrators” in India, and favoured optical fiber manufacturers abroad.

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