R Dutta Choudhury
GUWAHATI, Sept 24 – Though the level of violence in Assam and other parts of the North East is coming down gradually and the overall situation in the region is much better than the States affected by violence unleashed by the Maoist rebel groups, the Government of India issued fresh guidelines for use of mobile phones on “security grounds” for the region.
Official sources said that the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) recently issued fresh guidelines to the mobile phone service providers as per which, the security safeguards applicable to Jammu and Kashmir have been imposed in Assam and other parts of the region. On top of that, the DOT has ordered fresh verification of the documents of the existing pre-paid phone customers, which would be a Herculean task.
At present, eight companies are providing mobile phone services in the North East region and two more are likely to introduce their services soon. As per the records available, more than 1.58 crore customers are using mobile phones in North East, of whom nearly one crore are in Assam. Mobile phone service providers told The Assam Tribune around 95 percent of the total mobile phone users are using pre-paid services and fresh verification of the documents of all of them within a short time would not be possible.
The new guidelines will make it much more difficult for the common people to use mobile phone services and even the existing customers of the pre-paid services would have to provide the documents enlisted in the new guidelines to avoid disconnection of their phones. The certificates issued by the MLA, MP or gazetted officers would no longer be valid for proving the proof of identity of a person seeking mobile phone connections. Similarly, the certificates and photo identity issued by village panchayat head or equivalent authority would not be considered valid. Interestingly, electricity bills, fixed or landline phone bills or water supply bills will not be considered as proof of address. Sources admitted that a large number of existing customers would be deprived of using mobile phones because of the new guidelines, which came after the improvement of the law and order situation.
The mobile phone service providers already submitted memorandum to the Government of India opposing the new guidelines.
Meanwhile, security sources said that there have been instances of militants obtaining mobile phone SIM cards using false papers and the Government of India decided to make the rules more stringent to prevent misuse of phones by anti-national elements. Sources further said that in a few recent cases, the police and security forces recovered number of SIM cards from militants arrested or killed during counter-insurgency operations.
However, security sources also admitted that tracking of mobile phone calls also led to a number of successful operations by the security forces in recent times and in one such case, the police managed to prevent a blast in the city after tracking calls made by a militant. At present, different central and state government agencies including State Police, Intelligence Bureau and Army are tracking the calls of the suspects and under the licence conditions, the mobile phone service providers are bound to allow tracking of calls of the numbers specified on the basis of requests coming from prescribed authorities of the State and Central Governments.