The data for December 2020 released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority for India showcased that Reliance Jio lost subscribers in December, while Airtel and VI registered gains during the month, which has been seen as the potential result of the backlash Reliance faced in the ongoing farmers’ protests, reports RHEA BINOY.
INDIA’S largest telecom operator Reliance Jio’s wireless subscriber base in the states of Haryana and Punjab registered a slide in December 2020.
According to The Indian Express, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s data for December 2020 showed that Reliance Jio lost subscribers only in Punjab and Haryana. Additionally, Jio was the only major operator which lost subscribers in these two states in that month.
In Punjab, as of the end of December, Jio had 1.25 crore users, the lowest in the intervening 18 months, down from 1.40 crore as of November 2020. This was just the second time since its commercial launch that Jio lost subscribers on a net basis in the state, with December 2019 being the only other month when all major telecom firms, except state-owned BSNL, announced a decline in subscribers in the state.
Jio saw a decrease in wireless subscription numbers in Haryana to 89.07 lakh in December 2020 from 94.48 lakh in November 2020, the first time Haryana has seen a drop in numbers since its commercial launch in September 2016.
In a statement issued after RIL December-quarter results were reported last month, the company said it was because of a higher churn during the quarter at 1.63% due to the continued impact of COVID and recent malicious and motivated campaigns against Reliance Group in select geographies.
Though localised protests against the three farm laws had been going on since Parliament passed them last September, by the end of November, protesters started converging at the borders outside Delhi. Jio began to accept port-out requests soon after that. On December 11, Jio wrote to the telecom regulator alleging that “frivolous rumours” were spread by its rivals Airtel and Vodafone.
“These companies continue to remain directly or indirectly involved in supporting and furthering insinuations and false and frivolous rumours of Reliance being an undue beneficiary in the farm bills,” the company wrote in its letter to TRAI, adding that these were the reasons cited by customers in a large number of port-out requests.
Both Vodafone Idea and Airtel have denied the allegations.
Later, following the vandalism of telecom towers and fibre cables in use by Jio in these two states, the company filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking “the urgent intervention of Government authorities to bring a complete stop to the illegal acts of vandalism by miscreants”.
Farmers’ unions claimed that corporations, including Reliance Industries, were “purchasing vast stretches” of farmland in Punjab and Haryana, where they allegedly intended to conduct contract farming and set up private mandis, thus undermining government-run mandis, in compliance with farm laws.
However, Reliance Industries said that none of its affiliates including Reliance Retail or Reliance Jio had done any “corporate” or “contract” farming. It also said that neither Reliance nor any of its subsidiaries had purchased any agricultural land, directly or indirectly, “in Punjab or Haryana, or anywhere else in India, for “corporate” or “contract” farming”, adding that it had no plans to do so.
Meanwhile, Reliance Jio also observed net additions of 4.78 wireless users, according to TRAI data for December 2020, while Bharti Airtel added 40.51 lakh users and Vodafone Idea lost 56.9 lakh users during the month.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.
(Rhea Binoy is a journalism student at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune and is an intern with The Leaflet.)