Contrary to a rosy picture of an accelerated growth in overall teledensity over the last few years, rural India still remains neglected and starved for telephone connections.
According to an annual report of Department of Telecommunication (DoT), rural teledensity has grown only by 4 per cent in the last financial year from 1.49 (number of phones per 100 people) to 1.55. This is compared to a 27 per cent growth in overall teledensity that has gone up from 5.11 to 7.02 during the last fiscal. Moreover, the gap between rural teledensity and urban teledensity remains much wider. Urban teledensity has jumped by 45 per cent from 14.32 to 20.79 in last fiscal (2003-04).
Ironically, the DoT report - projecting rural telephony as its achievements -- claims that out of 6,07,491 villages in the country, 5,22,347 villages have been provided with Village Public Telephones (VPTs). However, it does not mention that all villages in the country were supposed to have telecom coverage by December 2002, as per Tenth Plan targets, as mentioned in its own report on a different page.
Moreover, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) has found out that many of the existing VPTs are not working properly and has pulled up DoT for ‘unsatisfactory’ performance in implementing VPT services.
In its audit observations included in the same report, C&AG said, “The review reveals that the implementation of VPTs, overall, was very unsatisfactory. While on one hand, progress was tardy and far below targets on the other hand, the disturbing fact was that a very high proportion of installed VPTs were not functional. There were several cases detected of unnecessary purchases and the equipment was lying unused in many cases.”
Reflecting on the government’s failures to focus on rural telephony, C&AG said, “The agreement with private operators initially provided for cancellation of the licence in case they failed to fulfill their commitment.”
“In practice, however, this clause was not enforced and private service providers were permitted to escape after paying a token amount of liquidated damages,” it added.