Amidst a border standoff by Chinese troops along the Sikkim section of India's border, reports said Chinese companies are bidding for state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd's (BSNL) submarine cable system linking the Andamans with mainland in Chennai.
While there is general opposition among some government departments and industry in general against allowing Chinese companies in a project that has also defence implications, BSNL's detailed notice inviting tender does not prohibit them, according to reports.
''The tender for design, engineering, planning, supply and implementation (including management and coordination) of the submarine cable system between mainland Chennai and A&N Island using four fibre pair with 100 Gbps initial traffic capacity consisting of six segments with one being repeated from Chennai to Port Blair and five unrepeated segments from Port Blair to 5 different landing points at Havelock, Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Kamoria & Great Nicobar,'' the BSNL tender floated on July 7 said.
Since two fibres of the eight fibre cables (four pairs) will be dedicated lines for defence use, the prospect of a Chinese company or consortium bidding for or securing the tender is cause for concern.
While the defence ministry has not flagged the issue, the home ministry is expected to raise concern.
Industry is worried that Chinese firms with their cheap fibres will be able to corner the project if allowed to bid. BSNL floated a draft tender in November, after cabinet approval for the project in September 2016.
Industry associations, such as the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association, have written to the Department of Telecom (DoT) to exclude Chinese players and include at least one Indian company to partner any global company.
DoT sources maintain that since it is a global tender, the government may not have a choice but to select a Chinese firm or one of its partners if their bid is the most attractive. But the maintenance job will not be given to them.
''We have to check all the provisions from a national security perspective,'' said a DoT source.
''The project may not necessarily go to a Chinese company or partner, but even if it does, rules can be set for the maintenance work.'' In any case, he said, the fibres to be used by defence will be managed and maintained by defence personnel.
Global firms such as NSW (Germany), NEC (Japan), Alcatel Submarine Networks (UK) and Tyco (US) may bid for the project, besides Chinese firms such as Huawei Marine (China) and ZTT Submarine, reports said.
Indian companies like Sterlite Technologies, Himachal Futuristic Communications and Paramount Wires and Cables are also likely to bid.