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Smart poles: HC seeks NDMC, Reliance replies Indus plea

Delhi high court

New Delhi : Delhi High Court today sought the response of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Reliance Jio Infocomm on a plea by a mobile tower firm seeking direction to the civic body not to grant authorisation for providing Wi-Fi services through street poles to anyone without informing the court or issuing a tender.

Justice V P Vaish issued notices to NDMC and Reliance Jio and sought their replies on the petition of Indus Towers which also sought records of authorisations provided by the civic body till date.

The court directed NDMC to ensure the presence of its official in court with relevant records on the next date of hearing on November 4.

Indus, represented by senior advocate Rajiv Nayar, told the court that NDMC had last year given authorisation to Reliance to provide seamless Wi-Fi through 750 streetlight poles.

Thereafter, NDMC had floated a tender to award contract to provide such services along with LED lights and cameras on the poles, in which Indus emerged as the successful bidder in February 2015, Nayar said.

A letter of intent (LoI) was issued to Indus on March 18. However, but when Reliance challenged the tender in the High Court, NDMC decided to scrap it, he said.

Indus moved the petition seeking not only the records of past authorisations, but also their cancellation, and a direction to NDMC not to issue fresh ones without a tender or without the leave of the court.

NDMC opposed the plea saying the petition was “confused” and “not maintainable”, with its counsel saying the earlier authorisations for 750 poles were issued as a pilot project to see if Wi-Fi can be provided seamlessly through the poles.

The counsel said towards this end, expression of interest was invited from all telecom companies. Besides Reliance Jio, Vodafone, a group company of Indus Towers, had also participated and some authorisations were granted to it too.

After the tender was floated last year, the pilot project was stopped, the counsel told the court.

On August 21, NDMC had said it had decided to re-float the tender to provide free Wi-Fi and set up CCTVs on 18,500 street poles in areas under the civic body’s jurisdiction.

The municipal body’s submission was not welcomed by Indus Towers which questioned the NDMC’s decision to make such a statement without first informing it in writing.

In its plea challenging the tender, Reliance had sought a stay on award of contract for the Rs 220 crore project which also includes replacement of streetlights with LED bulbs and putting up CCTV cameras.

The project was expected to be fully commissioned in three years, but the tender was for a 10-year period, according to the plea.

Reliance had challenged the tender on the ground that Indus was held successful as it had submitted a bid for 20 years, while the contract period was for 10 years. “After 10 years, it is the discretion of NDMC to extend it for another 10 years or not,” Reliance had told the court.

NDMC had earlier told the court that the decision to award contract to Indus was taken as it had offered to pay Rs 4,000 per pole per annum to the civic body as revenue while Reliance had offered only Rs 500 per pole per annum.

Indus Towers is a three-way joint venture of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in which India’s top two cellular service providers hold 42 per cent share each while Idea holds 16 per cent.

NDMC’s ambitious free Wi-Fi project was launched last year in Khan Market and later in Connaught Place.

Like in Connaught Place and Khan market, Wi-Fi will be free for first 20 minutes irrespective of operators after which the telecom provider’s commercial model will become operative.

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