Being questioned over some protesters allegedly disconnecting the power supply to mobile towers, at least two farmers’ bodies, including Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) Friday said such action was never on their agenda and that they had only given calls to boycott Reliance stores and products.
The clarification comes two days after Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited wrote to Punjab Director General of Police complaining of “incidents of sabotage and vandalism at Jio sites to disrupt the mobile service in state by unknown persons in the disguise of ongoing farmer’s agitation”. The Reliance Infocomm, while noting that at least 200 sites had been vandalized in three days and there was damage between Rs 5 to Rs 10 crore, also sought state police’s intervention.
A functionary of the Punjab government said that following letter from Reliance, the police chiefs across the districts were directed to ensure that Jio sites (towers) were not vandalised. The police chiefs were also asked to hold parleys with farm representatives in this regard.
Miscreants, not farmers, say cops
A police chief in a district in Malwa region, which draws tremendous farm support, however, said that it was “not the farmers, but miscreants” who were causing the damage to telecom towers.
The officer added, “We have also categorised mobile towers to ensure safety from miscreants. In A-category, we have towers which are most vulnerable and are located in secluded places. We have enhanced mobile patrolling around such towers. Mobile towers near any establishment have been put in B category and those in cities in C-category, which comparatively are already safer.”
In the letter to Punjab DGP on December 23, Reliance Infocomm noted that “…from last one week, we are facing escalated organised incidents to disturb the Jio network across Punjab. The persons involved in these acts, under the guise of farmer’s agitation, are now going to extent of sabotaging and vandalization of the Jio networking infrastructure. The damage being done is deliberate in nature and huge in volume. Atleast 200 sites have already been vandalized in last 3 days and more incidents are being reported from across the Punjab. Estimated cost of damage is already to the tune of [Rs] 5-10 crores. Apart from this, Jio connectivity in several pockets (Bhatinda, Jagraon, Samrala, Balachaur, Sunam, Moga etc) has got severely impacted causing severe inconvenience to lakhs of users. As per local inputs from the field, many more such acts of sabotages are expected at other critical network locations.”
The letter by Reliance said that “the importance of the network has increased manyfold during Covid due to increased requirements of work from home, online classes, Covid contact tracing through Apps etc.”
Biggest network in Punjab: Jio
It noted that in Punjab Jio was “now the biggest network comprising 9,000 plus sites, 300 plus major nodes and more than 250 offices”. “The network is now serving more than 10 million Punjab users and effectively serving their connectivity needs,” read the Reliance letter to DGP.
The telecom giant sought urgent intervention of the DGP in “restoration of the sites and action against the miscreants who caused the damage; and prevention of similar incidents at other sites.”
It attached district-wise list of 108 “most critical sites”.
Attaching a copy of the complaint by the Reliance, the law and order wing of Punjab Police, directed police chiefs across the state to take further necessary action.
Not our men, says BKU (Ugrahan)
Meanwhile, BKU (Ugrahan), the largest farmers’ body in Punjab, sought to distance itself from such protesters saying it was their “independent decision”.
“Our decision is to boycott Jio and not to disconnect the power supply to any tower. However, if anyone is doing it in villages, it is not a decision of BKU (Ugrahan). This is a message for all village-level units, which are working in Punjab. If anyone disconnects power supply (to towers), it will be their independent decision or anyone else’s but not that of the Ugrahan group,” said Jhanda Singh Jethuke, senior vice-president of the outfit, while addressing farmers at Delhi’s Tikri border.
BKU (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burjgill too claimed their call was “only to boycott Jio SIMs or get those numbers ported” to other networks. “I have learnt that in a few villages people went overboard. But we have appealed to them to act with restraint and focus only on boycotting Jio Infocomm,” Burjgill said, adding that “Our union members will not be disconnecting power supply to any mobile tower in future, (but) I cannot say about others”.
New protest: hoisting flags
Meanwhile, members of the Dakaunda group climbed atop a Jio tower in Bathinda’s Mandi Kalan village and hoisted the outfit’s flag. Surjit Singh Rumana, a BKU (Dakaunda) leader claimed that they hoisted flags on “many towers in Bathinda villages but did not cut the power supply” to any of them. But, he clarified, that it was only a temporary relief for Jio Infocomm as the farmers’ body has asked consumers to get their numbers ported to other networks by December 31 “ so that we can disconnect the power connection of only those towers, which are exclusively for Jio and not the ones where network is shared”.
In Barnala’s Hamidi village, farmers have been asked to port out their numbers within two days.
Despite the appeals by the two farm unions, some protesters disconnected the power supply to a Jio tower in Mansa’s Moosa village. Some videos of power supply being disconnected to Jio towers circulated from Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Ludhiana districts.