The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the operation of the Rajasthan High Court order that had directed the authorities to dismantle allegedly unauthorised telecom base towers erected by Reliance Jio Infocomm in Jaipur for starting its 4G services.
Putting on hold the May 22 order of the high court, the apex court bench of Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Amitava Roy posted the matter for further hearing in the first week of July, and provided interim relief to Reliance Jio till then.
“Towers that were already installed should not have been asked to be un-installed in an interim order,” the court said, while posting the matter for further hearing for July 3. But the bench did not stay the high court order on a bar on the installation of more towers by Reliance Jio.
This was after senior counsel for Reliance Jio Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that they had been served a copy of the petition at 10.30 a.m. on May 22, and by 11.00 a.m. the matter was taken up and the order under challenge was passed.
While suspending the interim order, the apex court also issued notices to Justice I.S. Israni (retd), Satya Narayan Singh, and the central and the Rajasthan governments. Justice Israni and Singh had alleged adverse impact on people's health due to radiation from telecom towers.
Singhvi sought to address the "purported public health risks” on account of telecom radiation, and told the court: "The Permissible radiation levels in India are 10 times more stringent than the corresponding international norms.”
Assailing the direction on taking into consideration some objections from people living in the vicinity of the site where the towers were proposed to be erected, he told the court that this would result in comtempt plea being moved by the individuals every day.
The apex court was told that the Reliance Jio Infocomm counsel who was present in the Rajasthan court was not even given time to take instructions from his client to file a reply. The order, he added, was passed despite a batch of petitions being listed for hearing three days later.
The Rajasthan High Court had said since hundreds of towers had already been erected and 1,800 more were in the pipeline in the city, it was found appropriate to bar further installations, except where permissions has been given under the by-laws in consultation with citizens.
To this, Reliance Jio had said that no norms had been flouted.
"New towers are the only way to obviate the menace of call drops, call failure, interminable buffering of data and video," a spokesperson for the company had said, reacting to the court's order.
"While achieving this matter of great public interest, Reliance Jio remains committed to conform to all regulatory requirements and a country-wide broadband network aligned to the government's vision of digital India," the spokesperson added.
"Towers (of Reliance Jio) meet and exceed rigorous national and international standards and statutory requirements as mandated by law. Being next-generation and battery-operated, they require very little space on the ground compared to conventional mobile towers."
According to available information, new towers are being erected in 2,100 places in the city and some 1,400 of them had already been commissioned. Also among them, while 1,200 towers had formal permissions, 200 towers were deemed to have been approved.
The petition mentioned that as per an order issued by the city's urban development ministry in February this year, permission for tower erection would deem to have been given, if the matter was not disposed of within 60 days. The period was reduced to 45 days later.
Reliance Jio said, besides conforming to the norms, the towers were actually also "green" as they do not require accessories like generators and diesel storage. "Also, the towers can be used for vital public infrastructure such as area lighting, public messaging and security."