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HP High Court Issues Several Directions On PIL Over Boosting Internet Connectivity In State Especially Rural Areas

Sparsh Upadhyay
27 Dec 2021 3:00 PM GMT
HP High Court Issues Several Directions On PIL Over Boosting Internet Connectivity In State Especially Rural Areas
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Dealing with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) plea filed highlighting the plight of the residents of the State, more particularly, the residents of the rural and backward areas of the State in the matters regarding internet connectivity, the Himachal Pradesh High Court issued several directions to the state government. The Bench of Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan...

Dealing with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) plea filed highlighting the plight of the residents of the State, more particularly, the residents of the rural and backward areas of the State in the matters regarding internet connectivity, the Himachal Pradesh High Court issued several directions to the state government. 

The Bench of Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Chander Bhusan Barowalia issued the following directions:

  • Replace Building Completion Certificate with Structure Suitability Certificate

The Court directed that the Chief Engineer, HPPWD to convene a meeting of the representatives of the Town and Country Planning, Information Technology, Rural Development, Urban Development,   and Municipal Corporation, Shimla, to look into the feasibility of replacing the condition of submission of Building Completion Certificate with Structure Suitability Certificate alone or in the alternate, making a provision for granting the completion certificates floorwise for ensuring the structure suitability.

Additionally, a three ­member committee has been appointed by the Court to check the structural stability and once the building is found to be fit, then grant the No Objection Certificate(s) for installation of the towers.

  • Construction of Common Duct

Implementation/inclusion of clause for construction of common ducts in bids/tender documents should be mandatory while construction/widening of roads. "The utilization of common ducts will enable the faster roll-out of telecom infra and at the same time inconvenience to general public towards digging of roads can be avoided," the Court said.

  • Review of RoW Charges

There should be no RoW (Right of Way) charges or the same should be at a far lesser rate than the one being currently charged, directed the Court. The Court issued this direction in view of the fact that Himachal Pradesh being a less populated state project viability here is a major issue and RoW charges are also one of the constituents to it.

In this regard, the Chief Engineer to the Govt of H. P. assured the Court that the proper exercise regarding the same would be undertaken and the compliance report shall be placed before this Court on the next date of hearing.

  • National Building Code for in­building fiber

The Court noted that it cannot be disputed that the ultimate internet experience can only be achieved through Fiber to Home. Fiber has unlimited bandwidth, whereas radio/mobile signals are limited in bandwidth.

"For ultimate delivery of machine­to­machine communication in future fiber to the home is a must. At present no code has been incorporated to accommodate fiber in modern housing complexes and societies which results in slowing down rolling of telecom infrastructure," the Court stressed.

Therefore, the Court directed the state to constitute a state-level coordination committee to put forth suggestions in its report and the decision taken by it be placed before this Court on the next date of hearing.

  • Penalty clause on fiber cut:

The Court noted that there is widespread fiber cutting by various agencies of PWD, Jal Shakti, Electricity & National Highways etc., which results in inconvenience to the public in general and loss of revenue. Therefore, the Court stressed that for maintaining the quality of service as per norms prescribed by TRAI, the cut needs to be minimized.

The Court was suggested that the penalty clause on fiber cut need to be included in all tendered documents/bids by various departments of the State to minimize and restore the service swiftly, and the Court asked the state to consider this suggestion.

  • Offering State Govt Land and Buildings for Telecom Infra:

A suggestion had been put forth that offering of government land and building should be at a token amount of rent for first 5-­10 years and other promotions at par with the industry. It was also observed that the targets for offering state government land and buildings need to be fixed to all districts for faster rollout of services.

Finding this suggestion to be meaningful and therefore, the Court directed the same to be placed in the next meeting of the state-level Coordination meeting.

  • Dig­ once and Call before you Dig Policy:

The Court stressed upon the implementation of dig once' and 'Call before you Dig policy as part of State's policy to avoid unnecessary breakdown of services.

Other directions issued by the Court

Further, noting that the state-level coordination committee meeting is held only quarterly, the Court directed to consider the desirability of holding monthly meetings. Also, noting that some of the electrical connections are being un­necessarily delayed by the HPSEBL, the Court directed the Executive Director, HPSEBL to personally look into the matter and report compliance on the next date of hearing.

Noting that the internet service providers only cover the urban areas without taking any steps to ensure coverage of mobile networks in shadow/rural areas, the Court asked them to shoulder the responsibility for covering the shadow areas as well.

Lastly, listing the matter for further hearing on January 5, 2022, the Court issued the following direction as well:

"The concerned respondents are directed to comply with the aforesaid directions and report compliance on the next date of hearing. In addition thereto, they shall report compliance with regard to the decision(s) taken by the State Level Coordination Committee in its meeting on 15.11.2021, which despite opportunity granted on 17.11.2021 have not been complied with. The service providers are also at liberty to put forth their grievances and problems so that an endeavour to resolve the same can be made."

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