Ministry matters

Ministry of Telecommunications: Ministries lock right-of-way, Ministry of Telecommunications offers nominal fee

A ‘right of way’ (RoW) debate has erupted between the telecommunications ministry and a group of key ministries – from defense to road transport and railways – over the fees to be paid for the use of land in the government for the development of essential telecommunications infrastructure for the national deployment of 5G and the Bharatnet project for rural tele-connectivity.

With nearly 500 projects blocked on the issue, the Ministry of Telecommunications is preparing to go to Cabinet to ensure that the other ministries concerned only levy nominal fees for the laying of the fiber optic network and the installation of the poles, ET collected reliably.

This will, in most cases, require changes in the rules/subordinate legislation of OGDs and hence the need for Cabinet approval.

Inter-ministerial discussions have so far taken place on the right-of-way issue with the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and of climate change.

ET understands that the bulk of the roughly 500 stalled telecom/fiber optic projects are tied to defense land – either in border areas or cantonments.

At least 100 of those stalled projects are stalled due to the amount of levies in the other three departments, officials familiar with the matter told ET.

MORTH, for example, is asking for levies of 10% of the market value of the land from the Ministry of Telecommunications, citing its rules, while the Ministry of Railways is said to have asked for nearly 6% of the market value of the land and advanced payment at the annual rate for 10 years.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests is also introducing net present value (NPV) charges which are imposed for the use of forest land.

Officials from some of these ministries said that while government-to-government contracts involving the right of way were not an issue, the situation changed when the private sector was involved.

Bharatnet is implemented in public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

“We are not permitted to allow the use of our lands by private for-profit actors at ridiculous prices that are being sought. The Cabinet must allow this and allow us to do so. The matter is under discussion,” said said a senior official involved. during interdepartmental deliberations, ET said.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Telecommunications cites the government’s mandate to achieve connectivity in the most remote areas of the country.

In a communication sent to multiple departments and states in April, the department noted that there are still “inconsistencies in right-of-way fees and procedures across the country.”

He drew attention to the “high costs and procedural delays in right-of-way permits” and how these “hinder the development of telecommunications infrastructure, affecting the availability of adequate telecommunications infrastructure and , therefore, impede the provision of telecommunications services at affordable prices”.

“For a successful deployment of 5G across India, a large number of poles should be erected for the deployment of small cells. In addition, the existing street furniture should also be explored for the deployment of small cells,” wrote the department in communication. .

“While most state governments have aligned their regulations, charges and levies with the draft 2016 right-of-way policy guidelines, we are experiencing issues with a few central ministries. occurred and the option to move a cabinet proposal is under active consideration to resolve it,” said an official with knowledge of the issue.