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Jio connecting villages in critical border areas, not BSNL

Jio has more in its pockets than just the 54 mobile towers coming up in Ladakh; it has many more villages in other critical border areas under a USOF project

Jio has more in its pockets than just the 54 mobile towers coming up in Ladakh; it has many more villages in other critical border areas under a USOF project.
Jio has more in its pockets than just the 54 mobile towers coming up in Ladakh; it has many more villages in other critical border areas under a USOF project.
  • Jio has been awarded a tender for connecting 354 villages under USO Fund, many of which fall in critical border areas in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh

  • In Jammu & Kashmir, Jio will connect eight villages in Baramulla’s Boniyal block and eight in Uri block, two in Poonch district (six of which are in Rajouri block), and 18 places in Gurez block

New Delhi: In the backdrop of India-China confrontation, the news of setting up of 54 mobile towers in Ladakh by Reliance Jio under the DoT’s (Department of Telecommunications) USO (Universal Service Obligation) Fund has been in the limelight. However, it is not just the setting up of 54 towers in critical border areas that has been awarded to Jio, the Reliance Industries company has been awarded a tender for connecting 354 villages under USO Fund, many of which fall in critical border areas in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, an agreement signed between Jio and the USOF sourced by PSU Watch has showed.

The agreement, dated April 28, said, “The government of India has approved a project/scheme for provision of mobile services in 354 Uncovered Villages as part of Uncovered Villages Project in the country... the USP (Reliance Jio) has agreed to provide mobile services in 354 Uncovered Villages as part of Uncovered Villages Project and the Administrator (Central government) has, subject to the USP performing all the obligations on their part, agreed to provide subsidy on the terms and conditions hereinafter.”

“Objective of the scheme is to provide financial support from USO Fund for provision of mobile coverage and telecom services in uncovered villages as part of 354 Uncovered Villages Project to be made available in the entire geographical range of village area,” said the agreement.

USO Fund project for Jio includes Gurez, Baramulla, Kutch, Barmer

According to the agreement, out of the 354 villages that the project aims to connect, several of these come under critical border areas. The contract holds Reliance Jio responsible for providing mobile connectivity in 24 villages in Leh (Ladakh) district, covering the Nubra block and 33 villages in Kargil district. In Rajasthan, Jio will set up mobile towers at two places in Kutch and four in Barmer, both of which share borders with Pakistan. In Jammu & Kashmir, Jio will connect eight villages in Baramulla’s Boniyal block and eight in Uri block, two in Poonch district (six of which are in Rajouri block), and 18 places in Gurez block. The Gurez valley in J&K is a border area and is heavily militarised.

According to the agreement, “The USP (Reliance Jio) shall set up (i.e. Supply, Install, Test, Commission) operate, maintain and manage the respective infrastructure sites required for effective provision of mobile coverage in the uncovered villages as part of 354 Uncovered Villages Project and provide mobile services as per the terms and condition laid down in the agreement.”

“The USP will be responsible for continued operation and maintenance of the tower and infrastructure created and provision of mobile services compliant with the terms and conditions of the License Agreement signed with DoT for a period of 10 years from the date of rollout of services,” the document said.

Why is this significant?

This is significant because projects in border areas are usually handed over to public sector companies by the government, keeping in view the issue of national security. A number of such contracts in the past have been handed over to state-run BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited), which already provides services in these areas. In 2017, BSNL was given the contract to ramp up mobile coverage in international border areas of Assam. In 2019, the state-run telco was given the task of installing mobile towers along the highly-sensitive India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. However, for the USO Fund contract for connectivity in 354 villages, BSNL has not been chosen. The decision to award the project to Jio is also timed with a revival plan that is mired in delays and snags as the state-run telco continues to wait for rolling out 4G services. PSU Watch tried to contact BSNL to get an official comment, however, it is yet to receive a response. This story will be updated when a response is received.

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