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Bombay HC’s Stay Against Jio Towers May Have A Cascading Effect

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Reliance Jio’s fourth generation (4G) telecom rollout plans suffered a setback on Monday when the Bombay High Court restrained the Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) from granting permission for setting up mobile towers on land reserved for open spaces such as playgrounds and parks. 
The NAGAR Trust, an alliance of NGOs, had challenged a notification issued by the BMC on 14 March, last year, allowing Reliance Jio to use open spaces and public grounds to set up wireless communication towers, the backbone for its 4G network. The amendment to the Development Control Rules (DCR) permits the use of non-buildable reservations such as playgrounds, by carving out 100 square meters or 5 percent of the total area of the open space, whichever is more.
Senior advocate Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the NGO alliance, told a bench consisting of chief justice Mohit Shah and Justice Anil Menon that no proper public notice had been given for this amendment. Though the notification bans mobile towers on the premises of schools and hospitals, it had permitted Jio from erecting these towers in public open spaces frequented by children. 
Ever since Reliance Jio began erecting cell towers in gardens and playgrounds, there has been a wave of resistance in Mumbai. Residents of Bandra recently physically stopped the erection of one such tower in the well-known Almeida Park; a public playground near Ghatkopar also saw resistance from local walkers and students when they saw equipment of a tower being brought in. 
Though the legal battle is still in its early days, if the interim stay granted by the High Court is confirmed, it will have serious ramifications for Reliance Jio in other parts of the country. The notification seems to have been brought in to please one telecom operator gauging from the hurried way it was promulgated. Jio’s 4G network requires clusters of low-rise towers, and the normal 2G or 3G hoists on tall buildings or rooftops does not work with the 4G system.  
With the Bombay High Court leaning in favour of the activists, a permanent injunction against Reliance Jio towers in public places in Mumbai is likely to have a cascading effect in other cities and towns as well. What the activists are questioning is: can municipal and government authority bring in ground rules for use of public land that obviously favours one telco? If this is not crony capitalism, then what is? they are asking.

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