The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to levy a fine of Rs 50 crore per circle on eight major telecom operators—Spice, Bharti Airtel, Hutch, Reliance Telecom, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Tata Teleservices and Dishnet Wireless for setting up cell sites within 10 km from the international border in violation of licence conditions.
A Telecom Commission meeting held the previous month discussed a report prepared by the access services cell of the DoT that indicted the eight operators for violating the licence condition. The commission also discussed the replies received from the service providers concerned.
The issue of setting up base station receivers in border areas was raised in the Lok Sabha on March 14, to which Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Shakeel Ahmed had replied, “These cases are being examined as per terms and conditions of the licence agreement that existed at the time of the violations.”
A source in the Telecom Commission said, “Following this reply, a decision had been sought from us. Prima facie it is a violation, but we are also re-examining the issue, based on another plea made by the operators. If they are guilty, a fine of Rs 50 crore will be levied on each circle where violation has been detected.”
The source, who did not wish to be identified, pointed out that an amendment had been made, by relaxing the licence agreement, that allowed operators to offer services 500 m short of the international border, as against the earlier norm of 10 km.
But the operators were told through a notification that they should create a 10 km buffer zone along the Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC), and in the Akhnoor and Pathankot areas of Jammu and Kashmir, where they shall not deploy their cell sites, base stations or radio transmitters. The report available with us says they have violated this buffer zone, the Telecom Commission source said.
Contesting the view, an industry expert who did not wish to be identified said, “What is important is whether the service is available in the buffer zone or not. If it is not, then there is no violation.”
Bharti in its reply to the DoT has said it had permission to start the service while ensuring that there is no spillover. “This aspect was to be tested by the Telecom Engineering Centre."
However, the TEC insisted on production of a clearance by the Standing Advisory Committee for Frequency Allocation (SACFA), which in the view of the company, had no relevance to the measurement of radio signals.
BSNL, admitting its fault, has stated that it had launched the service inadvertently in the initial phases and corrective action has been taken.