New Delhi, Aug. 16: Kashmiris who exulted when they heard Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee say from the ramparts of the Red Fort yesterday that cellular services would be launched in the state within a week may have celebrated too soon.
The cellular service launch in Jammu and Kashmir — badly jinxed with three stillborn attempts in the past to get the service up and running — will be confined to Jammu and Srinagar. Security agencies have refused to grant permission to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to set up base stations — without which the cellular service cannot be operated — in all parts of the militancy-ridden state.
“Mobile telephone services in Jammu and Kashmir will start from next week,” Vajpayee had said in his Independence Day address.
BSNL will be the only operator in the state as the telecom circle was not put up for bidding in the first three rounds and was offered in the fourth round provided the security clearance were obtained from the defence ministry.
BSNL, which is currently the only operator in the state, will offer mobile service in the 900-megahertz spectrum. Only three operators can fit in this spectrum.
“Our infrastructure is in place now. There would be no technical problems to offer service in any part of the state, except those notified by the home ministry as border areas,” said a senior official in the communications ministry.
Even in Jammu and Srinagar, where security agencies have given permission, there could be problems with call drops because the setting up of base stations here has to be cleared by security agencies and is not dictated by technical parameters.
Further, the security agencies have the right to take over the service and the network with an hour’s notice.
“The authority (government) will have an absolute right to take over the entire services and networks of the licensee with or without revoking, terminating, suspending the licence, in the interest of national security or in the event of a national emergency/war,” states the licence conditions signed by all telecom operators.
The mobile telephony services for the state were cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security earlier this year.
“When the decision to allow mobile service in the state was approved, in the first phase, Srinagar and Jammu were to get the cellular mobile services and expanded gradually to other districts. But we had problems with the launch because we did not have the infrastructure in place to start the service,” said a senior BSNL official.
“Later, we had problems in getting clearance from security agencies. As a result, the launch of the service in the Valley was stalled thrice — once the communications minister, then the Prime Minister and, finally, the President were slated to inaugurate it. However, the security agencies did not give the clearance to set up base stations in technically essential areas,” said sources in BSNL.
An assurance to launch mobile services in the state was given by the then communications minister, Pramod Mahajan, to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in December. There is a time-consuming, seven-step process for securing clearance to launch a cellular service in a new area.