DoT pulls up BSNL for terms and conditions of 4G telecom equipment tender

In a letter to BSNL on April 28, the DoT said it might take disciplinary action against erring officers where “restrictive conditions have been imposed against domestic manufacturers” in a “mala-fide” fashion. Photo: Dalip Kumar
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has pulled up Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) for the terms and conditions of its contentious tender floated on March 23 for 4G telecom equipment. Domestic manufacturers say the terms disqualify them from making a bid while favouring global players.

In a letter to BSNL on April 28, the DoT said it might take disciplinary action against erring officers where “restrictive conditions have been imposed against domestic manufacturers” in a “mala-fide” fashion. It directed the CMD of BSNL to respond within 15 days. A senior BSNL official confirmed receipt of the DoT letter and said they would respond in time.

The move comes in response to allegations by the Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council — a body set up by the government to help Indian companies export — that the tender does not comply with the provisions of the public procurement order of 2017 that seek to promote Make in India.

Further, the council believes the terms and conditions have been framed to keep domestic manufacturers out of the tender process, again, in violation of the order. Domestic manufacturers say the terms only allow foreign companies such as Nokia, ZTE, Ericsson or Huawei to make a bid.

However, the DoT letter points out that all procurement entities are required to certify compliance with the public procurement order before uploading tenders on the sites. It also says if the complaint is not redressed or if the complainant is not satisfied, then the matter will be taken up during the forthcoming meeting of the internal committee of the DoT constituted for vetting the restrictive and discriminatory terms against domestic manufacturers of telecom products.

If there is no representation from BSNL or the complainant, the case will be decided based on the documents available with the committee.

On March 23, BSNL invited tenders for the planning, engineering, supply, installation, commissioning and maintenance of 4G mobile networks in the north, east, west and south zone of BSNL in Delhi and for MTNL in Mumbai on a turnkey basis.
The order was for a total 57,000 4G nodes and the last date for submission was 23 May 2020.

The TEPC has identified numerous conditions in the tender which effectively  disqualify domestic bidders. One is that the bidder has to have a minimum turnover of Rs 8,000 crore in the last two years. Another is that the bidder should  have experience of installing and commissioning over 20 million lines of GSM 900 and or GSM 1800 and experience of rolling out networks of the size of a minimum two million lines.

Further, the bidder should also have 3GPPP or higher version of UMTS network of a total capacity of five million subscribers in at least two countries.

The TEPC has said that based on the items tendered and the fact that the project is fully funded by the government, the policy on public procurement is mandatory for BSNL.

In a letter dated 15 April to the Commerce and Industry Ministry and the cabinet secretary in the PMO, the TEPC questioned the tender.

In defence of the DoT, some experts say  domestic manufacturers have no experience of building 4G networks, a fact that is reflected in private telcos themselves buying their equipment from Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE etc.

“Government of India instructions are followed at the time of procurement, but in the case of BSNL, it is a company procurement and they can do it themselves,” said a source in the know.


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel