The Supreme Court today ordered an interim stay on a Rajasthan government order asking mobile operators to remove cell towers within 500 metres of jail premises by June eight. A vacation bench of Justices A K Sikri and Deepak Gupta sought the response of the state government within four weeks on a plea by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which has sought direction against sealing of the cell towers. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for cellular operators said that 80 lakh people will be affected if the mobile towers are sealed by state authorities in pursuance of the May 9 order. Sibal said its appeal against the November 27, 2012 judgement of Rajasthan High Court, which had directed removal of mobile towers from hospitals and schools within a period of two months and from 500 metres away from prisons within six months, was pending before the apex court.
The bench said that since the main matter is pending and a stay has already been granted in that petition, therefore an interim stay was being ordered on the state government’s May 9 executive order. On May 24, COAI had moved the apex court seeking stay on the state government order. The COAI said that cellular operators have 400 base transceiver stations (BTSs) within 500 metres of jail premises in the state, which include base station controllers sites, which cater to around 80 lakh subscribers. If these are removed, it would result in poor quality of service, it said. The association claimed that the August 31, 2012 policy decision of the state government requiring removal of cell towers within 500 metres of a jail was “superseded” by the state on February 6 this year and presently no such restriction exists.
“It is submitted that not only there is no restriction now on establishing cell towers within 500 metres from the jail premises but also that the operators/applicants herein are entitled to establish towers inter alia on public/private locations including roads, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, schools, land earmarked for public utilities,” it claimed. It contended that the May 9 executive order was issued pursuant to an order of April 6, 2017 passed by the Rajasthan High Court which was based on government policy of August 31, 2012 which has now been superseded by the “new policy”. The COAI contended that “since no policy restraining establishment of towers within 500 meters of jail premises exists, therefore, the executive order dated May 9, 2017 need not be implemented by the operators/applicants herein.”