A striking aspect of India’s development story has been the telecom revolution. The country leapfrogged to mobile telecommunications in a manner and at a pace that has been truly revolutionary. Today, mobile phones are a must-have in Indian society. Much of this has been possible due to the tireless efforts of the telecom industry in bringing the best possible services to its consumers.
Over the last few years, telecom networks have rapidly expanded in the country. Today, more than 6.47 lakh (as on April 1, 2021) mobile towers, that familiar symbol of mobile telephony, can be found in the country, with 51,000 being added in the last year itself. This has had a great impact in providing seamless connectivity to consumers across the country.
Unfortunately, it has also attracted unwanted attention—this time from telecom tower fraudsters.
Money and Mobile towers
How do these fraudsters operate? Presenting themselves as agents of Telecom Service Providers, Infrastructure Service Providers or of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), they dupe people by promising benefits like lucrative monthly rents for hosting towers in their premises.
These fraudsters often distribute fake pamphlets and make bogus phone calls. The usual benefits on offer include high rentals, free installation of towers and waiver of mandatory municipal taxes. Often gifts of free mobile phones are also offered.
Once ensnared, gullible property owners are then asked to deposit money in the accounts of these fraudsters in the name of government taxes, for which fake receipts are promptly provided. These receipts are often in the name of some bogus organization or a telecom service provider, or TRAI itself. Expectedly, once payments are made, the frauds close their operations and move on to target their next set of unsuspecting people.
The regulator has issued guidelines for the industry to take steps to raise awareness on the same. The industry is working together on education programmes and awareness campaigns to ensure that people are not duped by these unscrupulous characters. For redressal, the regulator advises victims to get in touch with local law enforcement agencies. TRAI, the regulator, is not directly or indirectly involved in leasing/renting of premises for the installation of mobile towers.
Who Is Then Licensed to Install Towers?
Infrastructure Providers like Indus Towers Ltd, ATC, Bharti Infratel, etc. along with the Telecom Service Providers such as RJio, Airtel, VIL, BSNL, MTNL, can install towers after clearance from appropriate authorities, which could mean central and state governments, local authorities, bodies, companies or institutions incorporated or established by the central or state governments.
It is important that the public is aware of the rules and the due procedures to ensure that they don’t fall victims to tower fraudsters. Calls can be made to the National Consumer Helpline from anywhere in India at 14404 or 1800-11-4000. People can also register the complaint at www.consumerhelpline.gov.in.
With a little more awareness, we can not only keep fraudsters at bay but also energise the telecom sector, thereby ensuring national growth and development.
By - Lt. Gen Dr. SP Kochhar, DG, COAI