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India to battle Maoists with more mobiles

Tower-building project will boost coverage in leftist-controlled regions

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The Indian government is looking to build nearly 3,000 mobile towers in areas across the country without coverage, in a Rs. 30 billion (£358m) bid to tackle left wing extremism.

The mobile infrastructure project will cover 2,199 locations in nine states where militant Maoists known as Naxals are prevalent. Naxals are seen by the government as significant destabilising force in the country.

In a written reply to a question in parliament, IT minister Killi Kruparani said: “In the 12th Plan period, all villages which presently do not have mobile coverage will be provided with connectivity under a scheme funded by the USOF [Universal Service Obligation Fund].”

The USOF has already enabled the building of hundreds of mobile towers in Naxal strongholds around the country, thanks to its Shared Mobile Infrastructure Scheme (SMIS) – an initiative begun in 2007 to subsidise construction and management costs.

However, the current plans are being pushed through by the Department of Telecommunications and Ministry of Home Affairs with one eye on India’s general elections next year, according to The Hindu.

A senior MHA official told the paper that the project would not only help development of the impoverished tribal areas in which Left Wing Extremists have historically based been strongest, but also aid state paramilitary and police in their long running battle against militant Naxals.

It's unclear exactly what kind of strategic advantage mobile coverage would give the government security forces, given that switching on a signal would surely also benefit the Maoists.

One potential angle is the authorities would be able to monitor communications, using its newly installed Central Monitoring System (CMS).

According to the 2011 Census, some 53.2 per cent of Indian households have access to a mobile phone, a figure greater than the 46.9 per cent which have indoor toilet facilities. ®

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