Chandigarh: When India’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati conceived the TV tower project in Punjab’s Amritsar district in early 2000, it had a strategic purpose.
The station – which involved the erection of a 300-metre high-powered transmission (HPT) tower with a relay range of 100 km – was to come up in Gharinda village located near the international border with Pakistan.
Official sources in Prasar Bharati told The Wire that the idea behind creating the long-range TV tower project was to transmit Indian programmes on Doordarshan and the All India Radio (AIR) service to Lahore (Pakistan’s second most populous city) and beyond.
The idea was to counter Pakistan’s “anti-India propaganda” and also facilitate India’s soft messaging into the neighbouring country, insiders added.
Lahore, which is just 50 km west of the international border, has linguistic and cultural proximity with Amritsar, which gave this project a further edge.
While the construction of the tower began in 2006 with an estimated budget of Rs 20 crore, it has not been completed yet. The official documents show that a sum of Rs 12 crore has already been spent.
The tower was completed in 2010 but was tilted at top. A portion of it was demolished three years ago in 2020, but the pending work remains unfinished so far.
A smaller 100-metre tower was also built close to the 300-metre tower site, the purpose of which is not clear.
The FM-transmitting antenna was removed from the higher tower and installed on the shorter tower – but it failed to serve even Amritsar town, let alone Lahore, said Mohali-based retired civil engineer and transmission relay expert Harjap Singh Aujla.
Aujla, who has for years been pushing for the project to be completed, told The Wire that it is probably the most delayed project in the history of Prasar Bharati.
“Pakistan has often targeted India through its radio service. The Amritsar project provided a strategic edge to counter the propaganda of the neighbouring country, which has yet not been fully harnessed,” he added.
Aujla also said the Indian government should have kept its tower height to more than 500 metres to cover a bigger part of Pakistan.
“Also, it should have been made of concrete rather than steel. But it appears that the public broadcaster has never prioritised this project despite huge sanction of funds,” he added.
Kulwant Singh Ankhi, the convener of Amritsar Vikas Manch, which is also demanding the project’s completion, told The Wire that the inordinate delay on Prasar Bharati’s part is beyond reasonable justification now.
“While this project may have strategic importance, it has huge local relevance too,” he added.
He said Amritsar is the cultural hub of Punjab. But it has no exclusive public broadcasting infrastructure of its own so far.
“If this project was made operational on time, it would have helped so much local talent to grow apart from giving meaningful content to the masses,” said Ankhi.
Currently, AIR has transmitting stations in Punjab’s Jalandhar, Patiala, Ludhiana and Bathinda. The capital city of Chandigarh has both Doordarshan as well as an AIR station.
Ankhi said that the completion of the tower is one part of the project, which also needs a relay station, studio and other infrastructure to broadcast relevant content both for TV and radio.
What transpired behind the scene?
The official documents accessed by The Wire revealed that the administrative approval and expenditure sanction was granted to Prasar Bharati’s North Zone office in June 2005.
A firm by the name of M/S Alan Dick & Company India Private Limited was hired for supplying, installing, testing and commissioning the 300-metre-long steel TV tower in Amritsar’s Gharinda village for Rs 17 crore.
The firm was later paid Rs 12 crore against its running expenses spent towards the completion of the said job work.
The official documents however suggested that despite payment to the firm, there was a problem with the project’s execution.
In 2016, a private firm M/s Stup Infra was hired on a Rs 30 lakh contract for physical inspection and identification of the defects in the construction of the said tower.
In addition, a team of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee was also hired on a Rs 5 lakh contract agreement for structure safety analysis and strengthening of the tower. This team, as per the past media reports, found the upper portion of the tower tilted – and it was later demolished.
It was not until 2019 when a public sector undertaking, Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), was hired for the completion of the pending work of the tower at a budget of Rs 6 crore.
However, last year’s correspondence between the office of the additional director general (North Zone) and director general, Doordarshan, revealed that the BECIL too has not completed the work as per the agreement; hence no payment was released.
Since no construction activity is happening at the site right now, it is not clear if BECIL is still working on the project.
The internal correspondence of Prasar Bharati now mentions the tower height at 282 metres, down from its earlier 300-metre height.
The Wire contacted previous Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati (2017-22) but he said he was not aware of the project details now.
When Prasar Bharati chief executive officer (CEO) Gaurav Dwivedi was asked about the project’s expected completion and how it will be put to use, he said someone from his staff would share details.
The Wire received a statement from Gaurav Chaturvedi, deputy director engineer (Tech), Prasar Bharati, who said that the project work is set to resume this month.
“Approximate time limit of completion of balance tower work may take around eight months,” he further stated.
On what caused the delay in the project, he said there was a delay in work by the first contractor M/s Alan Dick.
“The tower was not complete and also there was a verticality issue in the tower. A report from IIT Roorkee was taken and it was decided to get the balance work of the tower done by a different agency. M/s BECIL was awarded the balance work in 2019. Due to COVID-19, the work was stopped at the site on 11.09.2020 under the Force Majeure clause,” the statement says.
He said BECIL has agreed to resume the balance work of the tower within the terms and conditions of the published tender as well as the mutually signed agreement.
The North Zone office of Doordarshan has constituted a committee of DDGs to go through the matters and expedite the appropriate plan to complete the balance work of TV Tower, he added.