Diesel shortage interrupts mobile towers in Naxal areas: MHA

If attacks on mobile networks by Naxals are not enough, security forces are grappling with the non-availability of diesel to power mobile towers.

New Delhi: If attacks on mobile networks by Naxals are not enough, security forces are grappling with the non-availability of diesel to power mobile towers which has left the telecom network non-functional for long periods.

Union Home Ministry sources said the Telecom Department has been asked to ensure "sufficient monitoring" mechanisms to ensure that mobile towers in the Left Wing Extremist-hit areas remain functional to keep the communication channels running.

In a note sent to the Department, the Ministry has said "it has come to the notice of MHA that some existing BSNL towers in the LWE-affected areas remain shut for long periods of time ostensibly due to non-availability of diesel to run the generators etc. Hence, sufficient monitoring mechanisms may be put in place to deliver better services."

"We know a number of places where towers are present but because of poor supply of diesel to power the generators and other such facilities like poor maintenance, these towers are not working" a senior para-military official said.

The sources said maintenance of a robust telecom network in Naxal-affected areas is key to real time inputs from informers about the movement of the guerillas in the forests. But with Naxals targeting over 200 towers in the last four years, maintenance of a working telecom network is big challenge.

The recent Naxal attack on Congress leaders in Darbha valley of Chhattisgarh, which claimed over 27 lives including Mahendra Karma and injured former Union Minister V C Shukla, has given impetus to a three-year old proposal to install 2199 new mobile towers in these areas by BSNL.
The Cabinet is likely to take a call on a proposal to
install 2199 mobile towers in the Naxal-affected areas through state-run BSNL using Universal Service Obligation Fund, an independent body under monitoring of the Telecom Department.

The Ministry has asked the Telecom Department to complete the project entailing Rs 3046.12 crore to be completed within one year once it gets the Cabinet sanction, they said.

"It is suggested that the entire period of implementation may be compressed to 12 months from the date of Cabinet approval since the matter has already been delayed by over two years in finalising modalities of execution," Home Ministry had said in its missive to Telecom Department.

The Ministry has asked the Department to ensure that in the first phase towers should be installed in close proximity to the areas where security force establishments are located.

According to the proposal which is likely to be taken up by the Cabinet, these 2199 towers are likely to be spread across nine states--Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal--which have considerbable presence of Maoists.

These identified areas do not have any mobile coverage by any service providers.

"These locations have been identified for installing towers and mobile equipment keeping in view the security and maintenance considerations. It is stressed providing mobile connectivity is a prime requirement in these areas on an urgent basis," the proposal said.