K-FON: KSEB report reveals KSITIL violated 'Make in India' policy, used Chinese cable

The project aims to provide internet connection to 20 lakh poor families in the state for free and to others at affordable rates. Photo: Manorama Online

Thiruvananthapuram: As controversies continue to rage over the ambitious Kerala Fiber Optic Network (K-FON) project aimed at bridging the digital divide, it has now come to light that the authorities flouted a key tender norm that stipulated the use of Indian-manufactured products, and instead used Chinese-made cable in laying the network.

The optical unit that constitutes the core of the OPGW (Optical Ground Wire) cables supplied by the LS Cable company was imported from China. The project partner KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) has clearly pointed out this flaw along with the product’s “poor quality” while calling for a review of these aspects by a high-level committee, sources said.

The Kerala State IT Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) that implements the project, however, insisted on deploying the cable manufactured by LS Cables. The KSEB confirmed this dispute during an audit of the K-FON project by the Accountant General.

As per reports, the components that constitute about 70 per cent of the price fixed for the OPGW cables were purchased from a company called TTG China. The price was fixed at least six times higher than the market rates, the sources added.

The project tender floated by the authorities had stipulated the strict usage of products under the ‘Make In India’ programme, that are designed, manufactured and tested within India. But the KSEB representative who visited the LS Cable manufacturing unit in Haryana in November 2019 reported that the plant lacked facilities for manufacturing OPGW cables. The inspection also revealed that the company had been importing the Optical Unit, which constituted the core of the OPGW cable.

The LS Cable, however, came up with a certification by the Chartered Accountant that 58 per cent of the components in its product were Indian, while only the remaining 42 per cent were imported. It further pointed to a notification issued by the Union Telecom Ministry in 2018, which suggested that an optical cable product could be regarded as part of the ‘Make In India’ programme if it contained 55 per cent of components made within the country.

Interestingly, the KSITIL gave unilateral approval to both this argument as well as the document, without any further examination either on its own or by a high-level committee. In the process, it also violated the norm set by the Centre to seek advice from the Tele Communication Engineering Centre under the Union Telecom ministry in such cases.

No information yet, will examine: K-FON MD
When Opposition Leader V D Satheesan raised an allegation about the usage of Chinese -made cables in the KFON project, the company had come up vehemently denying the charge.

Dr. Santosh Babu, MD of both the K-FON and the KSITIL told Manorama that he had no knowledge about the presence of Chinese components in the cables nor the objections raised by the KSEB. Holding that he took charge of the project only in 2021, he said he would not be in a position to comment without examining these matters.

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