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(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Punjab govt asks Jio to share details of parties spreading ‘malicious rumours’

In its petition, Jio said over 1,500 of about 9,000 telecom towers in Punjab were damaged, causing wide-scale disruption to its mobile networks and affecting services

The Punjab government on Tuesday asked Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd to furnish information of parties with alleged vested interests spreading false rumours. Meanwhile, the Punjab and Haryana high court issued notices to Punjab and Centre seeking action against those damaging the telco’s infrastructure amid the ongoing farmer’s protest against the three new farm laws.

“It is suggested that the task of the state agencies would become easier if the petitioner was to share information regarding the alleged vested interests involved," said Atul Nanda, advocate general, Punjab government. The next date of hearing is 8 February, according to the high court order, a copy of which was reviewed by Mint.

Following alleged vandalism of its mobile towers, property and infrastructure in the past few weeks, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), through its subsidiary Jio, moved the Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday, stating that some parties with vested interests are spreading “malicious rumours" against it and other affiliate companies.

In its petition, Jio said over 1,500 of about 9,000 telecom towers in Punjab were damaged, causing wide-scale disruption to its mobile networks and affecting services. Jio has 1.4 crore subscribers in Punjab and is India’s largest telecom operator by market share.

“Vested interests, with a view to advancing their own interests and agendas, are actively engaged in spreading false rumours to the effect that the petitioner (Jio) and its parent company (RIL) and its affiliate companies are somehow beneficiary of a recent legislation passed by the Parliament governing marketing of agricultural produce," Jio said.

In a separate letter to the telecom regulator in December, Jio alleged that rivals Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd (Vi) were carrying out unethical and anti-competitive mobile number porting to capitalise on the ongoing farmers’ protest. To counter Jio, Airtel and Vi had called the allegations “baseless", urging the regulator to dismiss them.

Since November, protests continue against the three new farm laws, which allowed farmers to sell their produce to any buyer of their choice, bypassing middlemen or commission agents at state-controlled markets. The contentious laws were passed by the Parliament in September.

Mandis, or marketplaces for selling farm produce, were set up in the 1950s to stop the exploitation of farmers and pay a minimum support price (MSP) for certain produce.

Many farmers see the MSP as a vital safety net, and are skeptical of the new laws as they fear of being exploited by large companies, such as Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd.

Though the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have repeatedly said the procurement of crops at MSP will continue under the new laws, farmers continue to protest citing their concerns. Jio, being a RIL subsidiary, has been facing the heat of the protesters.

On Tuesday, Atul Nanda, advocate general representing the Punjab government, told the high court that the state has deployed 1,019 patrolling parties in 27 districts and has appointed 22 nodal officers to ensure that no further damage is caused to Jio's infrastructure.

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