SC stays order to remove mobile towers near Rajasthan jails

The SC put a Rajasthan government order, directing telecom operators to remove their cell towers from within a 500-metre range of jail premises on hold.

The Supreme Court on Monday put on hold the operation of a Rajasthan government order, directing telecom operators to remove their cell towers from within a 500-metre range of jail premises across the state. A vacation bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Deepak Gupta stayed the order as senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the bench that removal of cell towers would affect 80 lakh people and would have a cascading effect.

Issuing notice to the state government, the vacation bench gave it four weeks' time to respond to the plea by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), challenging the May 9 order that asked telecom operators to decommission their towers in the proximity of jails. The Rajasthan government's order followed a Rajasthan High Court order on April 6 in this regard.

The state government had given service providers 30 days to remove their towers, a period which was ending in early June. Sibal told the court that even the Department of Telecommunications and the government had earlier supported the telecom service providers. The apex court bench directed that no coercive steps should be taken by the authorities.

The COAI told the top court that the high court, when it passed its order, was not told that August 31, 2012, policy, which barred installation of cell towers within a 500-metre radius of jail premises, was superseded by a February 6, 2017, policy. The February 6 policy of the state government allowed setting up of cell towers not only within 500 meters of jails but also on public and private locations, including parks, playgrounds, hospitals, schools and government-owned/controlled buildings and lands under cultivation.

However, this policy was amended saying that the permission for setting up towers should not be given in these areas/ premises if barred by a competent court. This condition was included through an amendment made on February 9. The mobile service providers had sought direction that they should not be asked to remove the towers nor would the government take steps to seal those or take any coercive steps against the cellular service providers.

The COAI had said that the May 9 order would impact 80 lakh subscribers, as the entire exercise would involve removal of 400 Base Transceiver Towers (BTSs), including Base Station Controller sites, which further catered to 2,500 BTS.

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