Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's 2015 promise of free Wi-Fi across city remains a distant dream

Even after four years of Kejriwal government free Wi-Fi remains mere lip-service as many parts of the city still to get it

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) finished third in the four parliamentary seats in the recently concluded Lok Sabha 2019 elections. Now with assembly elections barely nine months away, AAP supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is indulging in populist politics to woo voters.

On Monday at a press conference, he announced populist measures such free rides on Metro and bus fares for women commuters, which he claimed would become operational over the next two-three months. The freebies are likely to cost around Rs 1,600 crore a year of the exchequer.

Kejriwal had made a similar sensational announcement in the AAP manifesto for the 2015 assembly election. He had promised “to make Wi-Fi freely available in public spaces across Delhi. Citywide Wi-Fi can help in bridging the digital divide. It will also provide an impetus to education, entrepreneurship, business, employment and also tie in with women’s safety initiatives.”

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwals 2015 promise of free Wi-Fi across city remains a distant dream

Representational image.

But, a fact-check reveals that Kejriwal's promises were merely lip-service to grab headlines.

Consider this: In March 2016, the AAP government conducted a three-month pilot project for free Wi-Fi facility at Sant Nagar market in Burari, north Delhi. The users were allowed to download 50 MB of data daily for free. The Kejriwal-chaired Dialogue and Development Commission (DDC) had roped in a local Sant Nagar market vendor for the pilot project.

Initially, the project was implemented by the Information Technology (IT) department but was handed over to Public Works Department (PWD) in August 2018.

A report in the Mint quoted sources that the PWD mentioned that it wouldn't be able to execute the Wi-Fi project due to “non-availability of sufficient staff" and “no expertise" in this field.

Subsequently, it was decided that the request for proposals (RFP) for the Wi-Fi project would be issued by 30 June 2018 and the expected date for “commissioning of Wi-Fi hotspots at pilot stage" will be 31 March 2019.

Three models of providing free Wi-Fi were also suggested — installation of fibre to home, internet voucher and creating hotspots at public places. Be that as it may, the project has remained a paper tiger.

A recent report claimed that the government would offer 2,000 internet hotspots at different locations across Delhi. Wi-Fi facility will be available within a 100-metre radius of the spot, and 200 users can avail it simultaneously.

In January, the PWD estimated the project cost at Rs 566 crore, but the finance minister in his budget speech earmarked only Rs 100 crore. Now, who will pay for the Rs 446 crore shortfall?

Firstpost has learnt from the PWD authorities that a proposal was in the works and the tender process remained a non-starter.

Is Kejriwal serious about the free Wi-Fi facility amid his latest populist offer on Monday? Experts have all along questioned the technical feasibility of the free Wi-Fi project and the past isn't too convincing either.

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