More than six years after Centre approved Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) for the Northeast region, several states continue to struggle for mobile phone connectivity and high-speed mobile internet, data tabled in Parliament shows.
The strategically-important Arunachal Pradesh tops the tally of states with the highest percentage of villages with no high-speed mobile internet, according to data tabled in Parliament.
Around 64 per cent of the villages of this state, which shares a border with Bhutan, Myanmar and China, does not have 3G or 4G mobile internet.
Responding to a question by BJP MP and former cricketer Gautam Gambhir, Minister of State for Communications, Education and Electronics & Information Technology Sanjay Dhotre said on Wednesday that 37,439 inhabited villages of the country did not have 3G or 4G mobile connectivity.
Data shows that 3343 of 5258 villages of Arunachal Pradesh have no 3G/4G mobile internet. The situation is dire in some other Northeastern states as well with 806 of 2515 (32 per cent) villages in Manipur, 2418 of 6459 villages in Meghalaya (37 per cent), 296 of 704 (42 per cent) villages in Mizoram and 378 of 1400 villages (27 per cent) in Nagaland without high-speed mobile internet.
The strategically crucial Union Territories of Ladakh and Andaman & Nicobar, too, have a large number of villages with no high-speed mobile internet, government data shows. While 311 of 396 (79 per cent) villages do not have 3G/4G in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, in Ladakh, 155 of 236 (66 per cent) villages are still without high-speed internet.
Meanwhile, another set of data laid down in Parliament by the Centre shows that many villages in the Northeastern state are still without mobile-connectivity.
Answering another question by BJP MP Rajyavardhan Rathore, Minister of State Dhotre submitted that 25,067 villages do not have mobile phone coverage. There are 2,023 villages in Arunachal Pradesh, 1674 villages in Meghalaya, 616 villages in Assam, 463 villages in Manipur, 206 villages in Mizoram, 144 villages in Nagaland who have no mobile phone connectivity.
Dhotre told Parliament that connectivity is being shored up. “Mobile coverage in uncovered villages in the country is being provided by the Government and telecom service providers in a phased manner,” Dhotre said in his response.
“Government has prioritised to reach remote areas of the country such as the Northeastern States, Islands, Himalayan States, Western Border States and more importantly the Left Wing Extremism affected areas in the first phase,” he told Parliament.
Dhotre also referred to the CTDP and said it is under implementation. According to government documents, the CTDP approved in September 2014, envisages to provide mobile coverage to 8621 identified uncovered villages, installation of 321 mobile tower sites along National Highways and strengthening of the transmission network in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura for Rs 8120.81 crore.
As on January 15, 2021, a total of 1,354 towers have been installed under the CTDP and 1,339 of them are providing services, Dhotre told Parliament on Wednesday.
In December 2020, the Union Cabinet had approved Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Scheme for providing mobile coverage in Arunachal Pradesh and two hill districts of Assam, including Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, under the CTDP.
According to details of of the scheme shared after the cabinet meeting, the project would provide “mobile coverage to 2374 uncovered villages (1683 in Arunachal Pradesh and 691 in two districts of Assam) at an estimated cost of implementation about Rs 2,029 crore including operational expenses for five years.”
The government statement said that the project would be funded by USOF and is targeted to be completed by December 2022.