Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. will ask an Indian court to urgently help stop vandalism of its telecom towers amid protests by tens of thousands of farmers who fear that new laws will enrich the local tycoons at their expense.
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., the telecom unit controlled by India’s richest man, will file a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court — to “bring a complete stop to the illegal acts of vandalism by miscreants,” the retail-to-refining conglomerate said in an exchange filing Monday.
The violence has “endangered the lives” of its employees and damaged its infrastructure, Reliance said in the statement. It alleged that the vandalism was instigated by “vested interests and our business rivals” taking advantage of the farmers’ agitation against the Narendra Modi-led government.
The farmers — mostly from the north Indian state of Punjab, often called India’s bread-basket — want Modi to repeal three laws passed in September that allow them to sell crops directly to private firms instead of licensed middlemen at state-controlled markets. While Modi has said these laws will help them earn more cash, farmers fear the large companies won’t give them minimum prices set by the government.
Reliance on Monday said it has never done any contract farming or acquired farm land for this purpose, and has no plans to do so. It will also insist that all its suppliers pay government-mandated minimum prices to farmers, Reliance said.
More than 1,500 telecom towers have been damaged disrupting services in some pockets, Press Trust of India reported last week. The cables that supply power to the wireless towers were cut in several parts of Punjab, according to this report, as farmers vented their anger on the infrastructure owned by Reliance Jio viewing the company as one of the probable beneficiaries of the new laws.
“Reliance has nothing whatsoever to do with the three farm laws currently debated in the country, and in no way benefits from them,” it said in the statement. “The sole nefarious purpose of linking the name of Reliance to these laws is to harm our businesses and damage our reputation.”