Legal backing for RoW by Dec, says telecom ministerNew Delhi: Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Saturday said legal backing for Right of Way (RoW) will be in place by December, and launched the GatiShakti Sanchar portal that will centralise and speed up approvals for laying of fibre and tower installations, as the country gears up for 5G roll-out.The GatiShakti Sanchar portal will facilitate centralised Right of Way (RoW) approvals.An online platform for the industry to apply for RoW approvals as they build telecom infrastructure, including for 5G services, the GatiShakti Sanchar portal offers a unified, integrated, centralised approach covering all states and UTs, and central government ministries.For players, it promises to reduce the days involved in getting stipulated permissions, lower costs, and facilitate ease of doing business.Launching the portal, Vaishnaw asserted the need for legal provisions for Right of Way, and promised that a strong legal backing will be put in place by December this year. At present, RoW rules are based on administrative process, and a strong legal backing is required to empower local officials, bring clarity on the fee structure, and fix accountability, he explained.”That will be our next step. Moreover, all the portals that are there, especially Gati Shakti portal, railway portal, highway portal, and others…integration of those…We will be working on these two technological and legal aspects,” Vaishnaw said.Work has started on these two fronts already, and the integration of portals is expected in the next 3-4 months while the timelines for providing legal backing is December-end.Asked if legal provisions for RoW will also entail penalties if approval timelines are not met, the minister said generally accountability and penalty tend to be linked.”…otherwise, it is about deemed approval,” he said.The new GatiShakti Sanchar portal is expected to significantly ease the process of RoW approvals for laying down of infrastructure by players, and offers a centralised and unified approach to permissions.Further, the integration of the portal with GIS, will give state government and various agencies more visibility into the optical fibre mesh and digital networks that are in place. The RoW approval time has already come down from 100 days to 22 days, Vaishnaw said lauding the state governments for their proactive role in streamlining processes.Once the work on the technological as well as legal aspects is done, the 22 days cycle could further reduce to even one week, going forward.The portal will act as an enabler to the objective of ‘ease of doing business’ for telecommunications infrastructure, the minister said. The timely disposal of RoW applications of various service and infrastructure providers will enable speedy network creation, catalysing timely rollout of 5G, the minister said.The portal will enable applicants – telecom operators and infrastructure providers – to apply at a common single site, for Right of Way permissions (for laying down optical fibre cable and installing mobile towers) to state governments and local bodies.For effective monitoring of RoW applications across the country, the portal comes fitted with a dashboard showing State and District wise pendency status of applications.By easing the RoW approval process, the portal will galvanise laying of optical fibre cable, speed up fiberisation and increase tower density for connectivity, overall ensuring better broadband speed and service quality.The portal, has been developed by MP State Electronics Development Corporation.Industry body COAI lauded the initiative saying with this portal, telecom service providers and infrastructure providers will be able to submit their applications and the authorities will be able to process and give timely permissions for the deployment of digital network infrastructure.The vision for this portal is to provide a collaborative institutional mechanism between all stakeholders including Central and State Governments, central land owning authorities (Railways, Defence, Ports, and others), local bodies, and service providers to facilitate the RoW applications and permissions for the deployment of digital infrastructure in the country.SP Kochhar, Director General of Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) termed the new portal as a “milestone” that will enable the vision for ‘Digital India’.Currently, the application process for the installation of digital infrastructure gets delayed due to inconsistency and uncertainty of policy and processes adopted at various levels. So, there is a need for fast-tracking application process to overcome the challenges of implementation of Right of Way Rules-2016.Digital Infrastructure Providers Association (DIPA) Director-General, TR Dua said, “The launch of this portal is a game changer and another milestone for the telecom industry, with faster rollout of digital infrastructure across the nation and cutting down the earlier delays”.