Controversy surrounds KFON project as Chinese-made cables flout tender norms

National Centre Lab in Shanghai conducted the cable quality test


Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) project, aimed at bridging the digital divide in Kerala, has faced controversy as it was revealed that Chinese-made cables were used instead of Indian-manufactured products, as stipulated in the tender conditions.

The project, implemented by Kerala State IT Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), aimed to provide high-speed internet connectivity to 20 lakh poor families in the state, free of charge, and to others at affordable rates. However, concerns were raised by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), a partner in the project, regarding the use of non-Indian cables.

The cables in question were supplied by LS Cable & System, a Korean company, and their quality was tested in China, contrary to the tender condition that required all testing to be conducted in India. The audit revealed that the National Centre Lab in Shanghai, China, conducted the cable quality test, which was accepted by the authorities involved in the project.

The KSEB, which had raised objections to the use of Chinese cables, stated that it had informed KSITIL of the high risk associated with the product. However, the objections were reportedly ignored, and the Chinese cables were used for laying the network, spanning approximately 2,600 km.

One of the key tender conditions required a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) to be conducted at the manufacturing plant of the product. Since the cables' key component was manufactured in China, this crucial test could not be carried out. The KSEB highlighted that merely testing the final product without examining the entire manufacturing process would not guarantee the cable's quality.

The KSITIL defended its decision by arguing that LS Cable, although a Korean company, had a registered plant in India, which, according to them, made it eligible as an Indian manufacturer. However, this justification contradicted the tender condition that explicitly stated the cable should be purchased only from Indian manufacturers.

The KSEB has called for a review of the high-level committee to assess the use of Chinese cables and the poor quality of the imported components.

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.

The implementation of KFON is a joint venture between the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and Kerala State IIT Infrastructure Limited, with funding from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board. Central PSU Bharat Electronics Limited leads the consortium responsible for the project's execution, while PriceWaterhouseCoopers serves as the project's consultant.

KFON is an extensive optical fibre cable network stretching an impressive 30,000 kilometers, boasting 375 Points-of-Presence meticulously positioned throughout Kerala. Acting as a crucial infrastructure provider, KFON will facilitate the sharing of its network with diverse service providers, including cable operators, to ensure widespread accessibility. By providing a robust backbone for internet connectivity, KFON will revolutionize the digital landscape of Kerala and create opportunities for progress and development.

KFON's comprehensive coverage promises to bridge the digital divide and empower every household and government office. With its ambitious target of connecting 30,000 government offices and providing high-speed internet access to 14,000 Below Poverty Line families in its initial phase, KFON demonstrates Kerala's commitment to digital inclusion and social welfare. The scheme's long-term vision includes extending internet connectivity to 20 lakh families below the poverty line, enabling them to access crucial online services and participate in the digital revolution.

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