21:15 GMT07 April 2020
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    The delay in laying optical fiber could derail Modi’s plan to shift India towards becoming a cashless economy, if vast sections of its population remain out of coverage with Internet technology and connectivity. The project is politically sensitive because Modi is pinning hopes on a digital economy to salvage his Demonetization project.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of ushering India into a digital age has hit a major roadblock as a key infrastructure project is facing protracted delays. The project to lay an optical fiber network backbone, National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN), across the country as part of Digital India initiative will miss its completion deadline yet again. The project has been in the pipeline even before Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.

    The Government plans to connect about 250,000 rural council bodies in the country through optical fiber cable (OFC). Out of these, 100,000 or about 40 per cent have been "connected" by March 31under the first phase of the project. The government had set December 31 as the new deadline for completing the project but it looks unlikely to be met, according to sources in the telecom ministry.

    "Under the Modi government, the total length of cable laid has crossed 130,000 km from just 500 km in May 2014. But, only 7,000 rural councils out of 97,480 have received final connectivity," a senior telecom ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

    At present, four public sector companies, including Bharat Broadband Network Limited, which was specially created for the task, are working on the project; the other three being Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, RailTel and Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. They are running behind their targets, but RailTel is the slowest of the lot.

    A major reason for the delay is lack of autonomy to take crucial decisions in case of cost overruns, said the official. The government should consider devolving the project implementation and monitoring to states, he added.

    The delays in laying optical fiber could derail Modi's plan to shift India towards a cashless economy because vast sections of the population remain out of coverage. The government is already under tremendous attack by the Congress Party and other opposition parties over the demonetization drive.



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