Telecom minister announces Rs 5,000 crore project for northeast

The central government has launched a Rs 5,000 crore ambitious project for the development of telecommunications in the northeastern states, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Saturday.

The project will be implemented in the next five years, the minister for communications and information technology said after laying the foundation stone to operationalise the new international internet gateway linking Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh.

After the commissioning of the international internet gateway, northeast India would be at par with the rest of the country in internet connectivity, thereby boosting the region’s economy, education, tourism, banking and other services, he said.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said development of India will remain incomplete if the northeast region continues to be underdeveloped.”

He said the Digital India initiative, that was launched on July 1 by Modi, will transform the country.

“Currently, India has 98 crore mobile phone subscribers and 30 crore internet connections. We will increase the internet connections to 50 crore in two years,” he said.

“After 82 crore people enrolled their names in Aadhaar, their digital records are now on the finger tips. Over 250,000 gram panchayats across the country are being linked by internet,” Prasad said.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

He said that in the Digital India initiative, over Rs.4.5 lakh crore worth of investment has been promised, enabling job opportunities for 18 lakh people.

The minister said two crore more people will also get jobs through electronics goods manufacturing.

Over 2,500 Wi-Fi hotspots have been identified across India for speedy internet connectivity. These include religious, tourist and important places.

Prasad asked Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) chairman-cum-managing director Anupam Srivastava to conduct an audit following Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s complaint that poor quality telecom equipment was being installed in the northeast.

He said that when the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee demitted office, BSNL was making a profit of Rs.10,000 crore, and when the NDA returned to power in May last year, the BSNL was incurring a loss of Rs 8,000 crore.

Manik Sarkar said that when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Tripura in 2011, he had approached her to provide a telecom link between northeast India and the rest of the world through her country, and Hasina readily agreed to the proposal.

“Lack of adequate infrastructure is taking the northeast backwards though the region has huge natural and human resources,” Sarkar said.

Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy was also present at the function.