As security forces battle to put an end to Naxal violence, the Home Ministry wants mobile phone towers installed in the affected region to remain operational irrespective of financial implications to give them the advantage of smooth communication and is awaiting the telecom department's nod, officials said on Sunday. At a recent meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, it was conveyed to the telecom department in no uncertain terms that these mobile phone towers should remain active. Previously, a series of meetings were held on the matter.
A letter has been sent to Universal Service Obligation Fund administrator Anshuli Arya conveying the decision of the Home Ministry to extend the operation of all these sites. USOF is the pool of funds generated by charging all telecom companies on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR). This fund, which is handled by the Department of Telecommunications, is used for providing funds for telecom connectivity in rural and such areas which are not commercially beneficial for telecom operators.
Over 2,200 telecom towers were installed in Chhattisgarh and nine other Naxalism-affected states that form the 'Red Corridor' to ensure communication facility for security forces as well as state police agencies. The towers, which were funded by USOF for five years, could be extended by another two years under an ongoing tender of BSNL to help the security forces maintain an easy access to the communication facility.
However, the silence of the telecom department for its extension has left everyone in despair, including the state-run BSNL which has been following up on it with USOF for almost 20 months. The BSNL CMD has shot off a letter asking for a clear-cut decision and whether they need to shut down the operations as BSNL is losing money every month to run these commercially unviable sites.
BSNL wrote a letter to the telecom secretary asking for clear directions on whether the mobile towers have to be kept operational or not. It said that BSNL had installed 356 telecom sites in the Naxalism-affected areas from its own resources for which non-tendered OPEX (Operational Expenditure) was provided from the USOF from September 2014 to 2019.
Further, BSNL has installed and commissioned in 1987 sites under the LWE (Left Wing Extremism) project for which USOF is providing OPEX subsidy. "The period of subsidy support of LWE sites is progressively expiring from July 2020 to March 2022. It said that the BSNL has not got any extension till date and may close these sites if an extension did not come from the telecom department," an official said, adding that to shut the service, it has to inform subscribers 30 days in advance as required under rules.
BSNL made it clear that either an extension is given to these projects or dates for final closure of the telecom sites is provided. This comes at a time when the security forces are establishing new camps inside the Naxal-dominated areas to ensure safety for people in these areas.