In an attempt to leverage the growing focus on India’s solar energy sector, state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) plans to lease out its telecom factory at Bhilai in Chhattisgarh for manufacturing solar equipment.The move is expected to provide a boost to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s ‘Make in India’ programme. India’s solar power sector has attracted a considerable amount of investor interest from within the country and abroad. However, many developers have been sourcing equipment from countries such as China to set up these projects.
The NDA government has set a target of adding 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy projects across the country by 2022. Of this, 100GW is expected to be from solar power projects. India has a renewable energy capacity of 44GW.“BSNL is offering its telecom factory premises at Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, for manufacturing latest technology devices. But the interested company can only manufacture solar power supply systems and/or its components such as solar cells, photovoltaic modules, solar batteries and other related equipment,” said a senior BSNL executive requesting anonymity.
The telecom company on 12 August invited proposals for the same from interested entities.The telecom factory at Bhilai is a 50-acre in-house production unit of the company. It has its own engineering facility, production shops, testing labs and other necessary infrastructure.“This will help us generate revenue by targeting the markets available in India and abroad for such products. It will also attract foreign firms interested to start manufacturing in India. They will have the infrastructure available in our factory without any need to go for a greenfield project,” the executive said.
The manufacturing facility will also help meet 30% of the annual solar equipment requirement of BSNL. The company has been setting up solar rooftop power projects as part of the government’s initiative to identify large government buildings for the purpose.With initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ aimed at creating employment opportunities, the manufacturing sector has to play a key role. By 2025, the government wants manufacturing to contribute 25% to the country’s gross domestic product from the current 16%.BSNL operates in all circles except Delhi and Mumbai where Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd—another public sector unit—operates.
BSNL’s chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava confirmed the development.Mahesh Uppal, founder of ComFirst, a consultancy firm, said BSNL has been focusing on leveraging its under-utilised resources, be it real estate or spectrum.The company has been trying to create additional streams of revenue. The main strategy is to tie up with private firms to monetise its underutilised assets, including spectrum, towers and land. Other measures include adding new capacity to offer 3G and 4G services, setting up Wi-Fi hotspots and replacing old equipment in the next few years to become a relevant operator.
“It is a good idea. But the larger issue here is why the company has become inefficient in offering basic telecom services. Lack of professional management at BSNL is one of the main reasons for this. BSNL has been facing challenges for its end-user services—especially quality of services and customer relations—which is why it is steadily losing market share. It can’t be resolved by making its resources available to outsiders,” Uppal added.
BSNL has been losing its dominance in the mobile space over the past six years. It’s net loss rose to Rs.8,234 crore in financial year 2014-15 compared with Rs.7,020 crore posted in the year before.