India’s new telecom policy aims to ensure security by indigenous manufacturing of multi-functional SIM cards with indigenously designed chips that would incorporate specific critical standards.
There have been allegations recently over the unchecked use of Chinese telecom equipment in India which might pose a national security risk.
Just last month, a Mumbai-based NGO, in a letter to the Department of Telecom (DoT), alleged that telecom equipment purchased from China, especially from Huawei, poses a security threat. The NGO also sought a ban on “Chinese companies participating in state-owned BSNL’s tender for 14.37 million lines in rural India.”
The NGO also stated that security agencies had in the past expressed concern over a BSNL tender involving 93 million GSM lines for which equipment was to come from Huawei, a company believed to have links with the Chinese Army.
Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, in its 21st report, has express concern over the inability of the DoT to notice any security threats due to import of telecom equipments from different countries, especially China.
“The Committee feels that the importing of SIM cards and telecom equipment from the different countries, especially China, is a big threat to the National security and, therefore, recommends that initiatives have indigenous SIM cards as well as other telecom equipment, and that as these options are explored the Committee be informed accordingly,” the committee stated in its report.
The DoT initially thought of limiting the use of Chinese equipment in sensitive areas like states sharing borders with China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan. But it scrapped the idea after intelligence inputs that telecom equipment placed anywhere in the country can be remotely accessed.
The DoT has now cautioned BSNL against selecting Chinese vendors, ZTE and Huawei, for its GSM lines contract.
According to a leading Indian business daily, citing concerns raised by the Home Ministry and the Intelligence Bureau, the DoT in an internal note states: “In the recent past, despite being clearly advised by DoT and the expert committee set up by home ministry and IB not to allow Chinese equipment deployment in sensitive regions like North East states, allowance by BSNL to ZTE to deploy wireless broadband network in North Eastern states is highly objectionable and should not be allowed.”
The telecom department has recently amended the Unified Access Service License Agreement to incorporate the security related concerns for expanding the telecom services in the country.