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Speeding up Approvals: States align their RoW policies with the centre’s

March 06, 2019
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India’s telecom market has grown significantly over the past few years to become the second largest in the world. However, the country is far behind developed nations in telecom infrastructure development. A major impediment to infrastructure roll-out is the long-drawn process to obtain right-of-way (RoW) permissions. The multiplicity of policies, absence of a single-window clearance mechanism, multiple fees and levies, location-based restrictions, unavailability of uninterrupted power supply, infrastructure security, property taxes and electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure are among the major obstacles faced by telecom service providers while rolling out infrastructure.

However, the scenario is beginning to change as a number of states have aligned their RoW policies with the Indian Telegraph Right of Way (RoW) Rules, 2016. The RoW Rules, 2016 have no restriction on the location of telecom towers, and include provisions for a single-window clearance mechanism, a defined time period for approvals, the appointment of nodal officers, nominal administrative fees and approval from the concerned authorities. So far, 12 states have notified policies and aligned with the RoW Rules, 2016, 14 states have policies under discussion and the remaining 10 have no uniform policies. While Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tripura, Odisha and Haryana were the first states to align their policies with the centre’s rules, many other states were added to the list during 2018.

Snapshot of state RoW policies

Maharashtra

The Maharashtra government issued comprehensive RoW guidelines in February 2018, to align with the RoW Rules, 2016. The aim was to eliminate the multiplicity of regulations and governing bodies for RoW and mobile tower infrastructure permissions, thereby reducing delays and overlap in obtaining permissions. As per the new guidelines, the Department of Information Technology (DIT) has been designated as the nodal department and principal secretary, IT as the nodal officer for all activities regarding the setting up and maintenance of telecom infrastructure such as mobile towers, micro cells and OFC.

The guidelines permit the installation of mobile towers on land earmarked in any development plan, or regional plan including non-buildable reserved lands, provided the installation is in a corner and does not cover more than 5 per cent of the reserved site or 100 square metres, whichever is less. TSPs will need to submit an indicative annual plan for laying OFC to the DIT and the concerned authority by July 31 of every year. The rules provide a maximum time limit of 30 days for granting permission. If no decision is communicated within 30 days, the permission will be deemed granted.

Tamil Nadu

In February 2018, the Tamil Nadu government decided to implement the RoW Rules, 2016. As per the government order, the District Collectors for all districts and the commissioner for the Greater Chennai Corporation are the nodal officers for the issue of RoW permissions. The Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu is given the responsibility to develop an electronic application process for the online application of RoW. Further, the principal secretary of the IT department will serve as the dispute resolution officer.

The levy and collection of track rent will continue as per the existing guidelines till they are revised, while collection of other charges has been aligned with the RoW Rules, 2016. Also, the order provides for the continuation of the existing guidelines for mobile towers at private buildings since these are not covered in the RoW Rules, 2016.

Assam

The Assam government aligned with the RoW Rules, 2016 in February 2018. The deputy commissioner of the district has been appointed as the nodal officer. Licensees will be allowed to install telegraph infrastructure on open land, including private and government land. In terms of underground infrastructure, damages to roads during the laying of OFC will be repaired by the concerned local body and the entire restoration expenses will be charged from the licensee. In case of lands and buildings belonging to the state government, or statutory or non-statutory bodies, annual charges of Rs 10,000 will be applicable in municipal corporation areas, and Rs 5,000 in town committee and other areas.

Arunachal Pradesh

In May 2018, the Arunachal Pradesh government released guidelines for granting RoW in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Telegraph RoW, 2016. The guidelines permit licensees to install telegraph infrastructure on open land including private and government land, government owned or controlled statutory or non-statutory institutions as well as at other public or private locations including roads, parks, playgrounds, schools, colleges, hospitals and land earmarked for public utilities. As per the guidelines, there is a one-time permission fee of Rs 10,000 for mobile towers, in addition to Rs 1,000 per km for underground telegraph infrastructure. Application for single-window clearance can be filed online. The nodal officer will be responsible for either accepting or rejecting the application within a period 30 days.

Uttarakhand

The Uttarakhand government broadly aligned with the RoW Rules, 2016 by notifying a comprehensive telecom infrastructure policy in November 2018. The salient features of the policy include permission for cell on wheels, appointment of a nodal officer for clearances, removal of location-based restriction, a 60-day timeline for application clearance, a mandate for no coercive action against towers regarding EMF issues without consent from the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring cell, and development of an online RoW portal within one year. Further, the policy has outlined Rs 1,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 as administrative charges for over-ground telecom infrastructure, one-time permission charges and per km charge for OFC respectively. The policy also ensures strict legal action against any willful or negligent damage to infrastructure, causing interruption to the network connectivity.

The newly issued policy also imposes a sharing fee of Rs 5,000 per service provider, which is not in alignment with the RoW Rules, 2016. In the industry’s defence, the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) has written back to the authorities for scrapping the fee.

Meghalaya

Connectivity and internet access in Meghalaya is patchy owing to difficulties and delays in obtaining approvals as well as the difficult terrain and weather conditions of the region. As of December 2018, approximately 2,389 villages of the total 6,471 inhabited villages lacked mobile connectivity. According to TAIPA, Meghalaya needs 2,162 mobile towers across 2,374 villages to establish basic network connectivity across the state.

With an aim to accelerate the deployment of telecom infrastructure, Meghalaya notified the RoW rules in alignment with the RoW Rules, 2016 in December  2018, becoming the fourth north-eastern state to do so (after Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh). The new rules as notified by the state are set to increase the pace of telecom infrastructure deployment in the state by making the approval process seamless and transparent.

Outlook

The number of states that have notified and aligned with the RoW Rules, 2016 has increased from five in 2017 to 12 at present. Other states are expected to do so soon. Interestingly, the north-eastern states, which have long been suffering from unreliable connectivity, have come out in support of this policy. Four out of seven north-eastern states have aligned their policies with three states coming on board in the past one year. This is a clear indication of the proactive stance of their governments to expedite infrastructure roll-out and improve connectivity. The effective implementation of these policies will be critical to achieve the intended objectives.  In an enabling move, the state governments of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Odisha have issued directives to all state departments regarding down-the-line implementation of the notified policies.

Next-generation technologies will require state-of-the-art infrastructure and India needs to step up its efforts to achieve this. Enhancing and expediting the roll-out of mission-critical telecom infrastructure will be crucial for India to be a frontrunner in the deployment of 5G and other futuristic technologies. This will also help fulfil the government’s broader vision of Digital India.

 
 

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