In wake of erratic power supply, particularly in the winter, and telephone exchanges lying defunct, mobile towers in villages close to the China border will be fitted with solar panels to enable 24-hour uninterrupted cellular communication in the tribal districts of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur.
Making use of the tribal development funds, the state government will initially fit solar panels on mobile towers in Nako, Kaza, Tabo, Pooh and Namgya, a village close to Kinnaur's boundary with China-occupied Tibet. Namgya is also the point for the annual Sino-India cross-border trade that is carried through the Ship-Kila pass in Kinnaur. There are 44 mobile towers in the two districts which share 230-km of the Indo-China border.
Telephone service provider Bharatiya Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) maintains that the main reason for the defunct telephone exchanges was theft of optical fibre and excavation of roads that often damaged underground cables. As such, landline phones go non-functional for months at end.
On the other hand, due to low subscription rate and high spectrum cost, not many private cellular companies are keen on expanding their network in the region. Therefore, the government has urged BSNL to increase its mobile towers in the districts. "Fees for the spectrum for mobile phone services should be provided through the tribal development fund," said Prem Singh Negi, a resident of Kalpa in Kinnaur district.
"Besides, the government should appeal to TRAI to encourage private cellular operators to introduce their services here," he added.
The army has also been pressing for upgrading the communication network, particularly in Shalkar and Chango villages, located close to the China border.
Several army garrisons are located in remote and tribal areas of the districts, and due to heavy snowfall, electricity supply often gets disrupted. As a result, they have to rely on diesel-run generators to meet their electricity needs and operate the communication systems.
To resolve this, the army had sent a proposal to the Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency (HIMURJA) to set up 100 kWp solar plants at Prithi and Sumdo stations. "As these areas are sensitive from the defence point of view, better telecommunication facilities are needed in the region. This can only happen if spectrum charges for the area are reduced as a special package to the area," said Ravi Thakur, MLA from Lahaul-Spiti.
With the aim of providing interrupted power supply in the tribal areas of the two districts, particularly in winter, the state government had conceived the project to install 66 kilowatt transmission lines in 1997. But close to two decades later, the project is still hanging fire.