Mobile towers have always been soft target for Naxals. It was no different during the recent 48-hour Maoist bandh, as three mobile towers in Bihar (at Guraru and Gurua in Gaya and one at Irki in Aurangabad) and two in Jharkhand (Lali and Tukbera near Daltonganj) were destroyed.
If home ministry sources were to be believed, the Naxalites had destroyed nearly 70 such installations during the last three years in half-a-dozen Naxal-infested states, including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.
Home Ministry sources said Chhattisgarh reported the highest number (20) of towers destroyed during the last three years. Last year alone, 14 mobile towers of both private and government networks were attacked there.
Jharkhand, which did not see any attack on mobile towers till 2007, saw nine such attacks in 2008 that disrupted communication networks in several Naxal-hit areas.
Mobile phone towers located in Bihar faced the wrath of the Naxalites who blew up 14 of them last year, as per figures available with the Naxal Division in the home ministry.
With mobile phones becoming increasingly popular during the last couple of years,
43 incidents of such attacks were reported last year alone.
This time, even the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) could not escape the Naxal rage, as its transmission and media equipment, were destroyed in the Tukbera blast in Daltonganj (Jharkhand) on Monday. The other mobile towers destroyed in Bihar and Jharkhand were of private operators.
No private mobile operator the HT approached was willing to come on record or even confirm the quantum of loss so far in such attacks. However, Sanjay Kumar, deputy general manager (mobile planning & development), BSNL Ranchi telecom circle, said: "Our loss on equipment damage in the Tukbera Naxal attack is around Rs 6 lakh. Since shelter was not ours and belonged to Aster, a private licensed infrastructure provider of the DoT, I will not be able to put a figure for that loss."
Private mobile operators, requesting anonymity, pegged the collective loss on one mobile tower in such attacks at Rs 12 lakh. With Naxal attack on communication installations increasing, mobile operators were unanimous in saying that it would affect rollout and, in turn, hamper mobile penetration in rural areas. This, they opined, would harm the society more than the operators.