Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Government to finalize right of way policy by May

The rules will enable telcos to get land from states, local bodies for setting up towers and fibre optic network

New Delhi: In a move that will help in the building of telecom infrastructure across the country, the government will finalize the right of way guidelines by May, telecom secretary J.S. Deepak said on Monday.

The right of way rules, to be framed under the Indian Telegraph Act, will enable Indian companies to get land from state governments and local bodies within a stipulated time-frame for setting up towers and underground fibre network, he said at the CNBC TV 18-Mint event ‘The Infra-Ministerial’.

“Discussions are going on with the state governments. It should be finalized by May. If the company does not get permission within two months from state governments, it will be considered as deemed approval," he said.

The right of way policy is one of the key demands of the telecom sector. Most of the telecom companies blame the lack of space for telecom towers for the poor quality of service across the country. Telecom towers need to be connected with optical fibre for quality data services.

Due to the lack of an right of way policy, municipal corporations across the country have been shutting down telecom towers for various reasons, ranging from non-payment of estate taxes to concerns over electromagnetic frequency emissions that allegedly cause cancer.

While the government has publicly debunked the radiation issue and set some of the most stringent EMF (electromagnetic field) norms in the world for telecom towers, the issue of taxes has been unresolved.

This has led to arbitrary closure of towers as rules differ from place to place.

The right of way policy aims to set a standard set of rules to which all government bodies will have to adhere when telecom companies seek permission to set up a tower in a certain area.

The policy is also expected to lay down guidelines which will allow telecom companies to set up towers on government properties such as post offices and district administrative offices.

“Some kind of clamour on the basis of health reason or other will lead to the shutdown of towers in large numbers and then there is complaint of call drops. It’s like saying I will not allow a water tank on my rooftop but I want 24x7 water supply," Deepak had said during a seminar on 9 March.

The lack of a right of way policy goes beyond just shutting down towers.

“State bodies continue to initiate actions such as disconnecting electricity, sealing the premises and even dismantling of tower sites without any prior notice, leading to coverage disruptions and network congestion," the Cellular Operators Association of India, the key lobby group for the major telecom operators in the country, said as part of its presentation to the telecom regulator, regarding compensation for call drops.

The right of way policy is also expected to provide guidelines to tackle issues of alignment of central, state governments’ and municipal corporations’ policies towards setting up of towers and laying of optical fibre with a single-window, time-bound clearance of sites as well as a provision of power supply to the sites at industrial rates.

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