Beyond the News - FACT Analysis

A Rupee twenty crore broadcasting tower, that never was!

Harjap Singh Aujla

During the year 2006, when Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister of India, a composite broadcasting tower for Doordarshan and All India Radio was designed to be built in an Indian and Pakistani border village of Gharinda on the Amritsar – Lahore Grand Trunk Road in Amritsar district. The height of the tower was designed to be at least 300 meters, enough for all round FM coverage is a radius of one hundred kilometers. The work of a steel frame tower continued at a snail’s pace. Eventually in 2013, the tower was completed.  The total cost of the project was approximately rupees seventeen crores. Its engineering inspection was conducted by a team of structural engineers of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee in 2014. The engineers found a minor deformity in the vertical alignment of the tower. This observation was enough for the Prasar Bharati authorities to refuse official takeover of the tower. Out of rupees seventeen crore cost, nearly fourteen crores of rupees were paid to the contractor.

The contractor refused to finish the job of dismantling the deformed portion and completing it after due corrections. The matter ended up in litigation. Considering the pace at which the judgments are pronounced in the courts of law in India, the matter is still subjudice and may remain so for a number of years unless the opposing parties specifically ask for a speedy judgement.

This tower was supposed to handle the load of transmitting antennae of a pair of Doordarshan transmitters and one or more of the All India Radio FM transmitters, which compared to the total load of the super-structure is totally insignificant. For a couple of years work was totally suspended at the tower. In 2017, the authorities of All India Radio erected their own much shorter one hundred meter high tower on the front lawns of the tower complex. After some testing, the antenna of a twenty kilowatt FM stereo transmitter was transferred from the tall tower to the newly built one hundred meter high tower and the All India Radio station was commissioned on the 24th of September 2018.

Compared to the three hundred meter high tower, the range of the one hundred meter high tower is merely 25%. When signal strength of All India Radio FM was tested in the downtown area of Amritsar city, the results came out  thoroughly disappointing. Several streets and Mohallas in old Amritsar had no signal, some had erratic reception. Similar complaints were received from the downtown area of Lahore, the prime target of this radio cum television station. This otherwise means that the correct height of the tower should have been at least three hundred meters.

In 2020, another contractor was hired, who dismantled some upper portion of the three hundred meter high tower, but left the work incomplete. Nine months have elapsed in 2021 also, no work has taken place at the tower. One of the reasons offered by the authorities is that no work could take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but this location is a remote rural area, where there is hardly any human habitation, so there should be no chance of Covid-19 pandemic at least at the site of the three hundred meter high tower. The Prasar Bharati authorities have no answer to these questions.

To make the matters worse, the Doordarshan authorities have just recently reversed their earlier decision of replacing the analog terrestrial TV transmitters by digital transmitters at their Amritsar location and now all the analog transmitters will be shut down in Amritsar without their replacement. This order lessens the need for an expensive tower in Amritsar. Considering the fact that Amritsar is located very close to Lahore, and Lahore area does not have receivers to receive digital signal, it needs the existence of terrestrial transmitters at Gharinda. If by any chance this tower is rendered redundant, it will become a tower that merely exists on the ground without serving any tangible purpose. After fifteen years Amritsar has a broadcasting tower that never served its purpose.

This looks like a colossal wastage of more than twenty crores of rupees without obtaining any practical utility. Such things happen when one prime minister of one party is replaced by another prime minister of diagonally opposite philosophy, although the new prime minister needs more to talk to his hostile neighbor Pakistan than his predecessor. Here the necessity of talking to Lahore by India cannot be ignored. If we don’t use this tower, this expenditure of more than rupees twenty crores will become a dead investment.

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