Reliance Jio Infocomm could become the first telecom operator in the country to lease fibre being laid by the government under the BharatNet initiative. The government’s BharatNet programme, under which 250,000 gram panchayats are to be connected by broadband by end of 2018, has not evoked interest on expected lines. A top government official said the Mukesh Ambani-owned company is in talks with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to lease dark, or unused, optic fibre and is studying business prospects to use it in the states of Haryana and Karnataka. “The backhaul connectivity is already available and they (Jio) asked us for an opportunity in Karnataka and Haryana. They want to take it (fibre) to mobile towers,” DoT additional secretary N Sivasailam told ET. Sivasailam, who is heading the initiative, said Jio is doing a feasibility study at different locations in the two states where they would like to go, depending upon a ‘business case’ scenario. “The price point at which optic fibre can be leased out slightly varies from state to state, which will though work out at a minimum of Rs 2,000 per km,” Sivasailam said. Jio, which started commercial services last September, had not responded to an emailed query on the matter till the time of going to press on Thursday. On the poor response to the BharatNet programme, a committee in its 2015 finding had remarked, “The efforts of Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) to explore dark fibre leasing from private service providers have not borne much fruit.” Sivasailam though said that India’s top two telcos – Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India – “have also taken necessary information about optic fibre and they will come back to the us”. He said any telco can go anywhere depending upon their business needs. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone too did not respond to emailed requests for comment. The government has already laid nearly 210,000 km of optic fibre cable under the BharatNet initiative with a maximum number of 4,735 active gram panchayats, or village blocks, in Karnataka. Telecom service providers, according to Sivasailam, could also implement optical line terminal (OLT) at a block level and the department would facilitate digital connectivity, which would also be used to connect local entrepreneurs and small businesses. To ensure bandwidth using infrastructure created via government investment, a panel had earlier recommended that 50% pairs of dark fibre at gram panchayats be set aside for the allocation to telecom service providers, multi-system operators, local cable operators and Internet service providers. The group included ministry of electronics and IT secretary Aruna Sundararajan, former IT secretary J Satyanarayana and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing director general Rajat Moona. BharatNet was launched by the UPA-II government in 2011 and since then has missed various deadlines and has also seen cost escalations. The project has got prominence in the current NDA regime as it serves as a backbone to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ programme. Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha recently told ET that phase II of the project, which could cost about Rs 40,000 crore, would soon be taken to the Cabinet for approval.