India’s Punjab state looking into whether protesting farmers sabotaged telecom towers

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Authorities in India’s northern state of Punjab are investigating whether protesting farmers were disrupting power supply to hundreds of telecom towers, a state official said on Monday, amid protests over new farm laws.

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“We have told the police to track all those involved in sabotaging the infrastructure,” a senior official in the Punjab state government told Reuters on condition of anonymity.


Read more: Indian PM Modi calls farmer protests politically motivated

A senior Punjab state police official said the power supply was disrupted to several telecom towers in the state, mainly ones owned by Jio, the telecommunications arm of Reliance Industries.

A source close to Jio said more than 1,400 of its 9,000 plus towers were affected as power supplies and fiber to the towers were cut but could not confirm whether farmers were behind the damage.

Some bundles of Jio’s fiber kept for laying were also burnt at one location, the source said, declining to be named as the matter is private.

Jio did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

At least 1,600 towers were affected in total due to the power supply disruption and about 30 towers have been damaged, Tilak Raj Dua, director general of the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), told Reuters.

Dua said the association was trying to determine which companies were affected and had written to the police in Punjab asking for protection of the towers.

Representatives of two of the 31 farmers’ unions protesting against the laws rejected the allegations when contacted by Reuters. They asked to remain unidentified pending a formal statement from all of the unions.

Tens of thousands of farmers are camping out on highways near the capital New Delhi in protest at three new laws implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that they fear will dismantle regulated agricultural markets, threaten their livelihood and benefit large companies.

But Modi and his ministers say the laws will increase farmers’ income as it links potential bulk buyers such as WalMart Inc, Reliance Industries Ltd and Adani Enterprises Ltd directly with farmers, bypassing wholesale markets and commission agents.

Punjab’s state government is opposed to the new farm laws and a seventh round of talks between farmer unions and federal government officials is scheduled on Tuesday.

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