Farmers, sympathisers continue to target telecom towers

Protesting farmers, sympathisers continue to target telecom towers

Farmers standing near telecom towers of Reliance Jio during a demonstration against the telecommunications corporation and the central government's recent agricultural reforms, on the outskirts of Amritsar. Credit: AFP Photo

Dozens of telecom towers in Punjab continued to be damaged by protesting farmers and sympathisers on Tuesday, ignoring the state government order to crackdown on those vandalising telecommunication masts.

Power supply to towers belonging to Reliance Jio was snapped and cables cut in parts of the state as farmers vented their anger on the infrastructure owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani's firm as they saw him along with infrastructure tycoon Gautam Adani as major beneficiaries of the three new farm laws.

Neither Ambani's Reliance group nor Adani's companies are in the business of procuring food grains from farmers.

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Sources with knowledge of the matter said as many as 63 towers were damaged on Tuesday.

Jio repaired some of the towers that were damaged over the past few days, they said, adding 826 sites were down as of Tuesday afternoon.

The masts damaged were in places such as Amritsar, Bhatinda, Chandigarh, Firozpur, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Pathankot, Patiala and Sangrur, the sources said.

Jio has 9,000 plus towers in the state.

On Monday, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked police to take action against vandalisers.

The "use of violence could alienate the protesters from the masses, which would be detrimental to the interests of the farming community," he had said in a statement.

Asserting that he will not let Punjab plunge into anarchy at any cost and nobody can be allowed to take the law into their hands, the chief minister had said he has been forced to toughen his stance as his repeated appeals to perpetrators of such acts had been ignored.

Industry body COAI "strongly condemned" the sabotaging of the telecom network infrastructure and disruption of services as a form of protest.

Terming telecom services as "lifeline" for lakhs of customers, COAI's Director-General SP Kochhar said disruption of telecom services is causing immense inconvenience to the common man, for whom mobile services are "essential".

"While we respect people's right to protest on any issue, sabotaging the telecom network infrastructure and disrupting telecom services as a form of protest by anyone is strongly condemned," COAI said in a statement.

Apex industry body Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) members include Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

COAI said telecom services are the lifeline of lakhs of customers, including students taking online classes, professionals working from home, and people going for online health consultations in the tough time of COVID-19.

"The disruption of telecom services, which are considered 'essential' under various enactments, is causing immense inconvenience to the common man for whom the mobile services are so essential," Kochhar said.

Hundreds of farmers have been protesting at Delhi borders for over a month now against the three farm laws, which they see would end the minimum support price (MSP) based procurement of farm produce like wheat and paddy.

The government has denied the apprehensions, saying MSP will continue and the new laws only provide farmers an alternative market to sell their produce.

Talks to break the deadlock are scheduled for Wednesday.