An encounter in the thick forests of Jharkhand on January 7, in which naxals killed at least seven securitymen and prevented the CRPF from retrieving the bodies of their colleagues for several hours, has driven home drove a vital point - the need for a better communication system.
For three years now, the ministries of home and telecom have been exchanging letters on the urgent need to install mobile towers in nine states affected by Left-wing extremism. However, despite several reminders, security forces continue to function without a secure communication network.
In a letter to Kapil Sibal in March last year, Union minister P Chidambaram had pointed out that only 301 mobile towers had been installed - despite 2,199 locations being identified for the same by the home ministry.
"All possible efforts are being made to ensure the early roll-out of telecom services," Sibal had assured in his reply, but the cabinet is yet to arrive at a decision on who will fund the sorely needed towers.
In July last year, Chidambaram had once again written to the telecom minister, asking that the government-owned BSNL be pressed into action for the purpose. Seeking that the construction of towers be implemented under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), he wrote, "This is a matter of life and death. It is also linked to the morale of the jawans, who are fighting Left-wing extremists in deep jungles."
The Latehar encounter between the CRPF and naxals underlines the 'life and death' aspect of the decision. As an MHA official pointed out: "Wireless communication can be intercepted. We urgently need mobile and satellite communication systems because they cannot be easily breached by non-state actors."
Security forces - including the state police - have offered to provide sites within police station compounds for the mobile towers, but few want to even venture into districts and villages where security forces are expected to operate.
Later, Sushil Kumar Shinde once again wrote to the telecom ministry in September last year. "I would once again like to
stress that construction of mobile towers is one of our most important tasks… the work on the ground is yet to be started, and any further delay would adversely affect anti-naxal operations,'' he said. Sibal responded with short-term as well as long-term solutions.
The cabinet is likely to take up the issue again, HT has learnt.