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Jio faces opposition to build towers in Gir, BSNL seeks permission

BHARAT SANCHAR Nigam Limited (BSNL) has approached the Gujarat forest department, seeking permission to conduct a land survey to set up telecommunication towers inside the Gir forest to provide 4G services to people living inside the protected forest area and eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

The move by the public sector undertaking (PSU) comes around eight months after Reliance Jio Infocomm, promoted by Reliance Industries Limited, was forced to put on backburner its plan to set up 34 telecom towers inside the Gir forest, due to opposition by wildlife activists.

On August 18, Sandeep Sawarkar, chief general manager of BSNL (Gujarat circle), wrote to UD Singh, principal chief conservator of forests and head of forest force (PCCF & HoF) of Gujarat, requesting access to villages where 4G mobile services are not available, for survey, official records show.

Citing a letter by the department of telecommunications (DoT) of the Central government to BSNL, Sawarkar said, the PSU has been directed by the government to “survey/install/commission 4G mobile service in all the uncovered villages”.

The BSNL manager said that according to a survey by the DoT, there are around 550 villages in Gujarat where 4G mobile services are not available and that his company would like to install towers for providing 4G coverage in accordance with government order.

“To do a survey of these villages, access to these villages is required to be done by BSNL officers/appointed authorised agencies,” Sawarkar wrote in his August 17 letter, adding, “Therefore, it is requested to kindly issue suitable instructions to all the concern, so that the survey of the villages is completed in a time bound manner.”

The CGM’s wrote to the PCCF & HoF a week after BSNL divisional engineer in Veraval in Gir Somnath wrote to forest officers of Junagadh wildlife circle, requesting permission for primary survey in 21 villages and settlements for construction of telecom towers.

“BSNL (the undertaking PSU of Govt. of India) (has been) awarded a project to provide 4G connectivity at uncovered villages (Kasba) by the Ministry of Communication under the Digital India Project of Hon’ble PM of India. Under this project, 29 villages of Gir Somnath district will be surveyed for acquiring land of 200 square metres for erecting 40M ground-based tower and solar panel for electric supply,” the engineer wrote in his letter.

The 21 villages and settlements include colonies of maldharies (cattle-herders) in Gir (east) wildlife division and located inside the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (GNPWLS), home to Gir lions.

Records show that in response to the letter, Nityanand Srivastava, PCCF (wildlife) and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat, wrote to chief conservator of forests (CCFs) of Junagadh wildlife circle, Kutch territorial forest circle, and Marine National Park, Jamnagar and conservator of forests of Gandhinagar/Vadodara wildlife circles.

In his letter, Srivastava said, “BSNL officers/agencies appointed want to survey villages of Gujarat state where 4G services are not available. Therefore, it is requested to issue necessary instructions to officers of concerned forest divisions, in whose jurisdiction sanctuaries/National Parks and ESZ fall and where survey is to be carried out, to initiate necessary procedure as provided in law.”

Around 50 colonies and forest settlement villages such as Shirvan, Amrutvel and Bhaniya, are located inside GNPWLS and are home to a few thousand maldharis or traditional forest dwellers who earn their living by cattle-herding.

Reliance Jio Infocomm faced opposition from wildlifers while seeking clearance to construct towers inside Gir, following which Parimal Nathwani, director (corporate affairs) of RIL, announced in January that his company had decided “not to move further with the proposal unless it is confirmed by the wildlife wing of state forest department”. IndianExpress

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