High court issues notices to Centre, Punjab over damage to Reliance Jio’s infrastructure amid farmers’ protest

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The Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday issued notices to Punjab and the Centre in response to Reliance Jio’s plea seeking action against those involved in damaging its infrastructure and other properties in the state amid the agitation against the three farm laws enacted in September.

The petition said the company’s 1,500 telecom towers have been vandalised, crippling its mobile network in Punjab, where it has 14 million subscribers. It has blamed the company’s business rivals of taking advantage of the ongoing farmers’ protests.

Farm unions have launched the agitation to force the Centre to revoke the three laws, which provide for creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old government marketplaces. The laws allow traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and lay down a national framework for contract farming.

Reliance Jio has maintained in its petition that its parent company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), retail arms, and affiliates, have “no interest” and do not “intend in future to do corporate or contract farming”. It emphasised that the conglomerate and its retail arms have not purchased any agricultural land directly or indirectly for farming.

It underlined the conglomerate has the greatest regard for the farmers hard work and added it has never entered into long-term procurement contracts to gain “unfair advantage” over farmers or their produce.

The petition was filed on Monday seeking direction to the state and the Centre to protect the firm’s infrastructure and ensure the safety of its employees.

The firm’s lawyer, Ashish Chopra, said that the high court has sought response from Punjab and the Centre by February 8.

The plea said subscribers were compelled to port to other networks and the vandalism has also endangered lives of the company’s employees.

The company has also sought the appointment of competent authority to assess the damages to be recovered from the attackers as per a Supreme Court ruling.

“The destruction has been done in a well-orchestrated manner, which is the result of a sustained disinformation campaign being carried out by vested interests,” said the plea.

Protesters in Punjab have targeted the company amid allegations that the laws are meant to benefit certain corporate houses at the cost of farmers.

Farmers say the laws will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the procurement system, whereby the government buys staples such as wheat and rice at guaranteed rates.

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