The ire of the protesting farmers continues to cost dearly to the Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio. Even after the appeal from the Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh to stop attacks on the telecom infrastructure of Jio, the attack on its towers and optical fiber material has not been halted. As per Jio sources, the farmers have damaged over 1,300 towers, and burned optical fiber bundles of the telco.
The towers infrastructure association TAIPA, which had written a letter to IGP (Law and Order) of Punjab Police, is planning to write another letter since the attacks have escalated over the past week. On the last Friday alone, some 700 Jio towers were damaged, which primarily involve cutting off the power supply. "We are taking cognisance of the damage done, and will write another letter shortly," says T.R. Dua, director general at TAIPA.
Last Tuesday, TAIPA's letter mentioned the incidents of forceful shutting down of telecom towers in Bhatinda and Hoshiarpur districts. The letter also said that the protesting farmers had threatened the employees and technicians of physical harm/manhandling in case the tower sites are restored. Since then, farmers have damaged infra in more districts of Punjab.
So far, the farmer protests have affected Jio in two phases. In the first phase, the telco wrote a letter to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) in mid-December seeking stringent action against the rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for "unethically" fanning the farmers' ire to port out Jio's customers to their networks. Jio had said that porting out resulted in substantial loss of subscribers. Though the actual numbers are still unavailable, some reports suggest that Jio lost about 1.5 lakh customers to Airtel and Vodafone Idea due to protests.
Jio sources say that the first phase was largely competitive in nature, but the current vandalisation is politically-driven. "We have filed FIRs against the incidents. The response of the local police has been unsatisfactory. We have not been able to restore the connectivity due to threats which is affecting the telecom services," says the source. So far, the vandalism is largely restricted to Punjab but there are fears that it might spread to other states as well since the protests are getting support from farmers in other states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and others.
Over a month ago, the farmers started protesting against the new farm law enacted by the current Modi government. Protesting farmers allege that some portions of the law are believed to be favouring large business groups, particularly Reliance Industries (RIL) and Adani Group. The farmers have been making calls to boycott RIL and Adani Group as a result of this perception.