The anti-farm law agitation has taken a drastic turn, with the protestors now disrupting telecommunication services in the Congress-ruled state of Punjab. Apart from opposing the new farm laws, the protestors are also protesting against Reliance Industries, alleging them of benefiting from the farm reforms. The protestors have forced several retail outlets owned by Reliance group, and given a call to boycott Jio Mobile.
As a part of enforcing the said boycott, hooligans across the state of Punjab have started disrupting the services of Jio mobile by disconnecting power from telecom towers of the company. After several reports of such disruption, now a video has now gone viral, where the protestors are seen resorting to vandalism and forcefully disconnecting power supply to Reliance Jio towers to express their opposition to three farm laws passed by the Modi government.
While the Congress party has been a vocal supporter of the anti-farm law agitation and has remained a mute spectator to the inconvenience caused to the public, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had a sudden ‘change of heart‘ on Friday. The Punjab government, realising the dangerous situation, appealed to the protestors to not disrupt connections or manhandle employees and technicians of telecom companies.
Amarinder Singh fears Centre’s intervention
The desperate intervention of Captain Amarinder Singh seems to be rooted in the fact that telecommunication belongs to the Union List, a subject that falls under the jurisdiction of the Central government. While the subject of law and order belongs to the State list and is controlled by the State government, the Centre may be forced to intervene if damage to telecommunication services continue in Punjab.
Despite its vocal support to the anti-farm agitation, the grand old party in Punjab cannot afford to allow the protestors to damage communication networks as a mark of ‘solidarity’ with the farmers. Doing otherwise may lead to a major embarrassment for the Punjab government as telecommunication infrastructure is a strategic asset, the protection of which is the responsibility of the Centre. This holds particularly true in case of Punjab as the State has one of the highest telecom density in the country. As such, the Central government may send central security forces to protect the telecom infrastructure and also to crack down on protestors destroying the telecom infrastructure in Punjab.
It is notable that at present, telecom operators do not own the towers where their antennas are placed. The towers are owned and operated by separate tower companies, and telecom companies place their antennas on the towers by paying rent for the same. Due to this arrangement, a single tower may contain antennas of several mobile phone companies. Therefore, although the protestors are targeting Jio, they may accidentally damage telecom operations of other companies also as they share resources on the towers.
Punjab Chief Minister worried about harming future investments, economy
Being fully aware of the economic repercussions of allowing such vandalism, the Punjab CM pointed out that telecom service disruption can have ‘detrimental effects’ on the farming community and can harm prospects of future investment in the telecom sector, crucial to expanding the connecting in the State.
Amarinder Singh stated, “Forceful disruption of telecom services due to snapping of power supply to mobile towers by farmers in several parts of the state was not only adversely affecting the studies and future prospects of students, who are dependent entirely on online education, but also hampering the daily life of people working from home due to the pandemic.” He had also expressed fears how it can disturb the economy and the lives of people, amidst the pandemic.
As such, keeping in mind the impending embarrassment of Centre’s intervention, coupled with aggravation of present and future economic prospects, Captain Amarinder Singh decided to give in to the request by the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), which sought for the State’s intervention to persuade the farmers to not indulge in ‘unlawful activities.’
However, it remains to be seen whether the Punjab government will take any action on the hooligans destroying telecom infrastructure in the state.