Telecom companies have petitioned the government to repeal certain sections of the archaic Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. These sections involve criminal action against employees but are currently irrelevant due to technological advances. The companies have also asked to strengthen some sections by imposing stringent fines, making them non-bailable and repurposing others to protect telcos’ assets.
The move comes as the department of telecommunications prepares for a new framework to replace the old ITA Act for which it has solicited the opinion of stakeholders before the draft is finalised.
Through their apex body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), telecom operators have identified seven sections that require either repeal or repurposing and strengthening.
Telcos highlight Section 27 of the Act, which calls for imprisonment with a fine if a telegraph officer transmits by telegraph any message on which the charge prescribed by the Union government has not been paid. Telcos want this section repealed as it has become obsolete due to technological advancements, and no human intervention is required for transmission.
The telcos have also identified Section 28, which states that any telegraph officer working in a telegraph office is guilty of any misconduct as defined under the Act, which leads to delay or disruption in the correct transmission of any message. Such a person may be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to three months or with a fine up to Rs 100 or both.
What sections of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 do telcos want repealed or strengthened?
Section 27, 28, 30: Repeal the sections.
Section 29A: Repurpose it to reduce the menace of tower fraud. Make it cognisable and non-bailable. Make fines stringent.
Section 20: Making violations non-bailable offences and fines more stringent to deter those operating telegraph without a licence. Government should be compensated for the loss.
Section 23: Make intrusion into the signal room and trespassing in the telegraph office or causing obstruction non-bailable and cognisable. Increase fine.
Section 25A: Amend section to include all kinds of telecom infrastructure, not only lines and posts. Increase penalty.
Telcos say that this section has become obsolete, and the licensees deal with such misconduct in accordance with the prevailing employment laws and policies, and hence the same should be repealed.
Section 30 of the Act calls for an imprisonment term with fine, or both if a person fraudulently retains, or conceals, removes, holds without any reason any message which ought to have been delivered to some other person or, being required by a telegraph officer to deliver up any such message, neglects or refuses to do so. It has asked for its repeal as, with technological advancements, there is no such human intervention.
The COAI has also asked that the Section 29A of the Act be repurposed to address the menace of widespread tower frauds (where documents are forged) by introducing criminal prosecution and punishment as a cognisable offence and sending a strong message of deterrence to such perpetrators. The current law imposes a fine of only Rs 50.
COAI has proposed to introduce a minimum penalty of Rs 1 lakh and/or imprisonment of six months for the first offence and a fine of Rs 5 lakh and/or imprisonment up to two years in the case of each subsequent offence. It has recommended that the offence be made cognisable and non-bailable.
Telcos have also demanded that section 20 be amended to make offences relating to establishing, maintaining, or working unauthorised telegraph without proper licence or authorisation from the government cognisable and non-bailable. They argue that the quantum of fines should be substantially enhanced to create deterrence and compensate the government for the loss of revenue. Under the existing Act, it is non-bailable and non-cognisable with a fine which may extend to only Rs 1,000, making it easy for fraudsters to get away.
Telcos are also pushing for strengthening Section 23 to make offences relating to intrusion into signal rooms, trespass in the telegraph office or causing obstruction non-bailable and cognisable. Currently, such violations only attract a fine of up to Rs 5,000 and are bailable.
Telcos have asked it be raised to Rs 10 million per offence to be paid to the affected telco or telecom licensee as these entities incur a considerable cost in acquiring licences for setting up necessary infrastructure and operations.
The telcos have also asked for an amendment of section 25A to cover all damages to all types of infrastructure, such as OFC, BTS, exchanges, etc., created by telcos (currently, it covers telegraph line and post and has a maximum fine of Rs 1,000) for delivery of their services to customers. Through COAI, they have recommended enhancement of the penalty, proportionate with the loss or damage suffered by the TSP/ licensee from such an illegal act.
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First Published: Tue, September 20 2022. 11: 01 IST