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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Tribals in Lahaul-Spiti cry for cellular phone services

Gaurav Bisht, Hindustan Times  Shimla, August 10, 2014
First Published: 21:06 IST(10/8/2014) | Last Updated: 22:46 IST(10/8/2014)

Even as poor communication adds to the woes of tribals in the remote regions of Himachal Pradesh, the cellular companies are not willing to venture out in the land-locked areas due to the heavy fees for spectrum licence.

"It's a double whammy for the tribals since these areas remain snow-bound for about half a year and secondly  there is hardly any communication network in the region," says National Commission for Scheduled Tribes vice-chairman Ravi Thakur, who is also the MLA from Lahaul and Spiti. 

There is hardly any communication network in the area. What makes things worse for the region is that cellular companies are not willing to invest in the region, owing to high fees for the spectrum licence. Licence fees for the spectrum is `10 lakh annually.

 "Companies are not willing to invest in the tribal region owing to heavy licence fees," says Thakur who has written a letter to the central government, urging it to waive off the spectrum fees so that mobile companies come forward to expand their services in the remote villages where communication is still a biggest barrier. 

As many as 15 villages in the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti district are bereft of any kind of communication. There are half-a-dozen villages in Lahaul valley which do not have any mode of communication. These include Othang, Tingret-Mayar, Madgaran, Rarik Chikka, Chokang  and Salgran.  

Similarly, around ten villages in the Spiti valley do not have any means of communication. These village include Hansa, Ghugri, Gui, Mudh, Lari, Pooh, Chichahm and Kibber, Gomik and Dhankar, which is a famous Buddhist centre and known for its ancient monasteries.

Lahual and Spiti is one of the remotest tribal districts in India neighbouring Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir and is close to the China border.

"The district remains cut off from the rest of the country due to heavy snowfall for about half the year," says Thakur. 

Snow in winter adds to the problems of the inhabitants of the remote villages. "In case of medical emergencies, one has to only resort to the old system wherein messages were sent through messengers," he adds. 

Not only high spectrum licence fees but the erratic power supply was also deterring the companies from venturing  out into the remote regions. The remote villages often remain deprived of the power supply for most of the year  as the high transmission line from Kinnaur gets effected in the winter snow. 

The 2 MW hydel power project Rong-Tong is non-functional for the past couple of years due to the worn-off turbines. The previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had allocated `7 crore for the repair of Rong-Tong project but to no avail.  

The legislator has also urged the Centre to increase the capacity of the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) so as to cater to a higher number of mobile phone towers and a wider communication network in the area.

Lahaul and Spiti is the biggest district in the region but at the same time it is sparsely populated which is another factor that cellular companies are reluctant to invest.

The total area of Lahaul and Spiti district is about 13,841 sq km while the total population is around 31,564, according to the 2011 census.

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