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Key Tender Designed to bar Indian Firms, States Niti Member

Top scientist and a Niti Aayog member V K Saraswat has raised questions and sought to put on hold the tender for the government’s strategic Rs 1,072 crore Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands (KLI) optic fibre project, and he said that the tender document has been “deliberately designed to bar Indian companies from participating” which could compromise the security, cost-effectiveness, as well as the reliability of the project.Saraswat, former DRDO chief, expressed reservations over the tender — which has also been challenged in the Delhi high court by the lobby group Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) — through a communication sent to the telecom ministry in April, the top sources told TOI.

At a time when India is trying to build its capabilities in the telecommunications sector, there are no provisions in the Detailed Note for Inviting Tenders (DNIT) to facilitate/ support the development of indigenous capabilities. It appears that the eligibility criteria mentioned in the DNIT are deliberately designed to bar Indian companies from participating in the said project,” Saraswat said in a letter, which has been reviewed by TOI.“Since connectivity between the mainland and the Lakshwadeep Islands is a matter of strategic and national importance, we need to ensure that the network being developed… is robust, reliable, secure, indigenous, and cost-effective… I am of the opinion that BSNL should put this tender on hold till the necessary changes are made to promote participation by Indian companies,” Saraswat said.

The 1,772km project aims to lay submarine cable between Kochi and 11 islands of Lakshadweep. The plan – announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2020 -- is to provide a bandwidth of 100 GBPS in the areas, improving mobile services, and boosting e-governance and e-commerce initiatives.

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