Farmer agitation: Jio blames rivals for vandalism to its tower infrastructure

Reliance Jio tower vandalism
Communication towers with the evening sky background, Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo by manivannan |

On Monday, India’s top telco, Reliance Jio, moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking action against those responsible for damaging its telecom infrastructure in Punjab and Haryana. Over 1500 telecom towers were damaged and rendered inoperative by miscreants in Punjab alone in the last few weeks.

The Mukesh Ambani-led telco has alleged that the acts of vandalism were instigated by its business rivals Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.

Reliance Jio has over 14 million subscribers in Punjab, representing 36% of the state’s total subscriber base. It has around 9.4 million subscribers in Haryana, around  34% of the state’s overall subscriber base.

Jio had previously written to the telecom regulator that its rivals were running campaigns to promote port-outs from the telco in Punjab and Haryana.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea have again refuted Jio’s allegations and termed the new charges as baseless and outrageous.

“Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), through its subsidiary Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), in a petition mentioned to be filed in the Honourable Punjab and Haryana High Court today, has sought the urgent intervention of Government authorities to bring a complete stop to the illegal acts of vandalism by miscreants,” Jio said in a media statement on Monday.

Jio said that miscreants indulging in vandalism have been “instigated and aided by vested interests and business rivals.” “These acts of violence have endangered the lives of thousands of its employees and caused damage and disruption to the vital communications infrastructure, sales and service outlets run by its subsidiaries in the two states,” it added.

Last year, India enacted new agriculture laws, which resulted in large-scale protests by farmers, mostly from northern states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The protesting farmers have called for a national boycott of Reliance products, including Jio’s mobile connection and handsets amid rumours that the new laws would allegedly benefit Reliance Industries Limited and Gautam Adani’s Adani Group.

Jio’s parent Reliance Industries Limited said that it has nothing to do with the three farm laws currently debated in the country, and in no way benefits from them. “As such, the sole nefarious purpose of linking the name of Reliance to these laws is to harm our businesses and damage our reputation,” the parent company said.

Bharti Airtel already sent a strongly worded letter to the country’s telecom department slamming Jio’s allegations.

The baseless allegation made by Jio that Airtel is behind the farmer agitation to sabotage their network and force customers to switch to Airtel is simply outrageous, the Sunil Mittal-led telco said.

“We have seen a history of Jio going to any length to make baseless allegations, adopt bullying tactics and use intimidatory behaviour to suit their purposes and meet their goals. This is another such instance,” Airtel’s chief regulatory officer, Rahul Vatts, said in the letter.

Vodafone Idea separately issued a statement slamming Jio’s allegations. It said that it would never be part of any such activity that has an impact on network installations of any operator in the country.

“…it (Jio’s allegation) seems a fictional conspiracy theory to implicate and cause damage to VIL,” Vodafone Idea said, condemning “acts of vandalism” against telecom infrastructure.

In its petition on Monday, Jio highlighted that its sister company Reliance Retail or any other Reliance unit has no plans to enter contract farming business. It also clarified that 

“…Neither Reliance nor any of our subsidiaries has purchased any agricultural land, directly or indirectly, in Punjab/Haryana or anywhere else in India, for the purpose of “corporate” or “contract” farming. We have absolutely no plans to do so,” Jio said in its 661-page petition.

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