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Tamil Nadu BharatNet implementation: non-profit once again alleges bid rigging

The implementation of the BharatNet project in Tamil Nadu has been plagued with delays, and now, a non-profit that was able to get a previous tender cancelled for being discriminatory is once again accusing the state government of tailoring its conditions for a foreign vendor.

BharatNet is a project of the central government that aims to provide optical fibre internet connectivity to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country. While countrywide progress has been slow in general, it has been worse in Tamil Nadu, where not a single gram panchayat is currently service-ready. Lakshadweep is the only other territory in India that shares this dubious distinction, according to a parliamentary response from September.

Arappor Iyakkam, the Chennai-based non-profit that complained about the state’s BharatNet tender being discriminatory, said in a press release dated November 9, that although some conditions are no longer discriminatory, new ones have been introduced that favour a foreign vendor. “TANFINET [the BharatNet implementing agency of Tamil Nadu] has retained some old restrictive clauses as well as introduced some new ones on the technical side that restricts and kills the competition almost completely,” the non-profit said.

A requirement that was rescinded last time around, requiring all routers to be procured from the same manufacturer, has resurfaced in the current tender, Arappor Iyakkam said. “When they have realized that it is a restrictive clause last time itself, what is the need to reintroduce it this time,” the non-profit asked. “TANFINET should allow any number of OEMs for IP MPLS routers as long as the standard and compatibility of the routers are ensured.” The statement adds:

[T]he operating temperature for aggregation routers at blocks has been fixed at 65 degrees while in reality it may not cross 45 or 50 degrees.

This issue was raised during the last tender itself and has still not been addressed. It is reliably learnt that this criteria has been brought in to favour specific OEM It is reliably learnt that the combination of the above conditions will result in almost nill competition with respect to Electronics part and that only one foreign OEM is likely to qualify.

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Jayaram Venkatesan, Arappor Iyakkam’s convener, requested the DPIIT and the Department of Telecommunications to get the tender amended, and for action to be taken against the discriminatory conditions in the bid. The last date for the bid is currently Wednesday (November 11, 2020).

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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