New Delhi: Sector regulator TRAI has asked the Department of Telecom to roll out comprehensive communications network at Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep even if the cost is higher than estimated as these islands are of "immense strategic importance". Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in July 2014 had recommended a comprehensive plan for improving telecom services in ANI and Lakshadweep island with an outlay of about Rs 2,900 crore.
The DoT in a detailed project report prepared by state-run BSNL found two of the components, satellite capacity increase in Lakshadweep and optical fibre connectivity within ANI, suggested by the regulator are costing about double the amount computed by TRAI and hence sought its view on the estimates.
TRAI in its reply said the estimation of the investment required was done by the it on the basis of costs data inputs provided by the telecom operators including BSNL and based on certain valid assumptions.
"The authority does not have any other source to examine the item-wise costs mentioned in the DPR. Moreover, preparing or vetting Detailed Project Report is not a function of TRAI. It is for DoT to take a decision on the matter," TRAI said. The regulator said it has been almost 20 months since the recommendations were made in July 2014 and costs and need for replacement of infrastructure may vary with time.
TRAI in its recommendation laid primary importance of connecting these islands through undersea cable which is dependent on connectivity from satellite only for telecom services. The regulator said decision about the cost of project based on factors such as the availability and suitability of existing telecom infrastructure, their residual life etc can be taken by DoT.
"... keeping in view that the broad objectives outlined by the Authority in its recommendations on the Comprehensive Telecom Plan of ANI and Lakshadweep are fulfilled even if the estimated costs of the project(s) is somewhat more than the costs estimated by the Authority," TRAI said.
The regulator has recommended that besides connecting these regions with cables, satellite connectivity should be retained in parts of both of these union territories. In Andaman and Nicobar Island (ANI) 29 out of 576 islands are inhabited and 90 per cent of the population lives in three islands - North, Middle and South Andaman Islands alone.
In Lakshadweep, 11 out of 36 are inhabited and 10 of the inhabited islands have population above 100. For Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the regulator has suggested connecting 22 islands, which included 18 islands with population of above 100 and four islands which have presence of police, forest camps and tourists. For Lakshadweep, the regulator has factored connectivity at 10 inhabited villages.
The islands are a part of the West Bengal service area and Lakshadweep is a part of the Kerala circle. In Andaman & Nicobar Islands, four telecom operators - BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance - have launched services. In Lakshadweep, only BSNL and Airtel (partly) have launched services. While in the rest of West Bengal and Kerala service areas there are eight telecom operators....