The conflict arises as TCIL has been the agency tasked with preparing the detailed project report (DPR) for the various tenders. The PSU is, however, also one of the direct beneficiaries of the tenders, which it has won through Bharti Hexacom, a JV it has with private telco Bharti Airtel, according to official documents reviewed by TOI.
With several projects running behind schedule TCIL also bagged the mandate from the government (DoT’s Universal Services Obligation Fund) to audit the work that was originally awarded as per its own DPR, and executed by its own JV (Bharti Hexacom).
For example, documents show a Rs 1,300-crore project to install 2,004 mobile towers in uncovered villages and national highways of Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh had been awarded to Bharti Hexacom and Bharti Airtel in December 2017, based on the DPR prepared by TCIL. However, only 1,358 were installed till March 2022.
On March 28, USOF tasked TCIL to audit the work carried out for a fee of Rs 5.75 crore. In a similar case in Meghalaya, TCIL prepared the project report for a tower contract worth Rs 727 crore, that was allotted to Bharti Hexacom in September 2020, documents show. While the project completion target was 18 months, this was extended by 24 months without substantial commissioning of towers.
While Bharti Airtel and Bharti Hexacom are separate companies, official representations are sent by Tarun Chitkara, who is a VP for regulatory affairs & authorised signatory for Bharti Hexacom. Chitkara’s LinkedIn profile shows him as VP of regulatory affairs at Bharti Airtel. Questions sent to TCIL and the telecom department were not answered.
A spokesperson for Bharti Airtel only answered questions related to Chitkara representing two companies (Airtel and Hexacom) by saying, “Bharti Airtel has 70% stake in Bharti Hexacom. As a substantial subsidiary, it’s our policy to support Bharti Hexacom with all necessary financial and managerial resources. We see no conflict. USOF projects are awarded through due process and competitive bidding. These, however, form a miniscule part of Airtel’s overall revenue pool.”