Government clears mobile telephony for northeast, Kashmir

Monday, 24 February 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: The Indian government has cleared plans for bringing the seven northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir on the country's mobile telephone network this year.

Minister of State for Communications Sumitra Mahajan said state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) would invest 25 billion to roll out its cellular mobile services in Kashmir and the northeast during the next fiscal year.

The service will initially be available in 23 towns and cities in Assam, 49 in the six other northeastern states and 14 in Kashmir, Mahajan said in written replies to questions in Rajya Sabha Thursday.

In the northeast, mobile services are currently available only in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, and Assam's principal city Guwahati. There are no mobile services in Kashmir.

The defence and home ministries had for long opposed the introduction of mobile phones in the northeast and Kashmir, saying they feared militant groups might use the network for communications.

But pressure from the communications ministry and Parliament's standing committee on communications, the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the introduction of mobile services in these areas some time back.

Government sources, however, said intelligence agencies and the army were likely to closely monitor all mobile phone communications in these areas.

Mahajan said BSNL would roll out its services in the northeast in two phases from August. It planned to create a total capacity of 93,350 lines in the region, including 42,550 lines in Assam.

The BSNL network in Kashmir will have a capacity of 41,200 lines.

Besides BSNL, Hexacom India Limited, a private firm, has been granted licence to start mobile services in the northeast telecom circle.

These new licences are expected to end the monopoly enjoyed by Reliance Telecom Limited, which currently operates the mobile services in Shillong and Guwahati.

In reply to another question, Mahajan said the department of IT had set up 475 community information centres in seven northeastern states and Sikkim to promote the use of IT to accelerate socio-economic development.
Source: IANS
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