With his appeal to protesting farmers to not damage telecom towers failing to yield the desired result, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Monday directed the police to take strict action against those indulging in such vandalism.
While the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), a registered body of telecom infrastructure providers, claimed that at least 1,600 towers have been vandalised in Punjab, the state government, in an official statement said that 1,561 mobile towers of the total 21,306 have been impacted with 25 having been physically damaged by agitators protesting against Centre’s farm laws.
Amarinder said he will not tolerate destruction of any private or public property and that he had been forced to toughen his stance as repeated appeals to perpetrators of such acts had been ignored.
“I will not let Punjab be plunged into anarchy at any cost and nobody can be allowed to take law into their hands,” Amarinder said, adding that his government had not objected to, or stopped, peaceful protests against the “black farm laws” for the past several months, but damage to property and inconvenience to the citizens could not, however, be endured.
Of the 1,561 towers affected over the past few days, 146 had been impacted since Monday morning as there was a disruption of power supply to 32 towers, which led to the disconnection of services of 114 more. So far, 433 towers have been repaired, according to the official statement.
Amarinder on Friday had appealed to the farmers to not inconvenience the general public with such actions even as such incidents were reported from Mansa, Barnala, Ferozepur and Moga with mobile towers of Jio Infocomm being targeted. Jio has 9,000 plus towers in the state and sources said that around 1500 towers have been impacted. A source with knowledge of the matter said that such incidents will impact the states’ image in attracting investments going forward. Since telecom comes under emergency services, government should ensure safety of infrastructure, the source added.
Calling upon farmers and their supporters to put an immediate stop to such destructive activities, which were being disowned by farmer leaders themselves, the chief minister said disruption of telecom services could lead to a communications blackout in the state, causing its people, especially students and working professionals, to suffer serious consequences.
“With examinations, especially Board exams, nearing and students dependent on online education amid the Covid pandemic, such communication breakdown could seriously affect their future,” he said.
“The state government has already distributed 1.75 lakh smartphones to class XII students to equip them for the Board exams, but the vandalization of telecom property was hampering the students,” he said.
The chief minister further said that professionals working from home, with many of them having come to Punjab during the pandemic, could lose their jobs due to such acts of violence and damage to property. Even banking services, which were also largely dependent on online transactions in these times of crisis, were taking a major hit due to these unlawful acts.
“The farmers’ agitation had so far been successful and had garnered the support of people from all sections of the society and across the country due to its peaceful nature,” he said, warning that use of violence could alienate the protesters from the masses, which would be detrimental to the interests of the farming community.
While his government’s sympathies were with the agitating farmers, which was why it had also brought in state amendment bills in the assembly to negate the central legislations, nobody could be allowed to take law and order in their hands, warned the chief minister.
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