The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the 2023 Telecommunications Bill that provides for the Centre to temporarily take control of telecom services in the interest of national security.

The proposed law says that in case of a public emergency, including natural disasters, or in the interest of public safety, the Centre, state governments or authorised officers can take temporary possession of telecommunication services or networks.

The bill also provides for the interception of messages and their transmission to be stopped in case of a public emergency, PTI reported.

The proposed legislation will replace the existing laws regulating telecommunications, including the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act, the 1933 Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act and the 1950 Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act.

The bill, cleared by the Cabinet in August, was passed by a voice vote after a brief discussion as several Opposition MPs were not present in the Lok Sabha. Ninety-seven Opposition MPs in the Lower House, besides 46 in the Upper House, have been suspended in recent days from the remainder of the Winter Session of Parliament for disrupting the proceedings as they sought a discussion on the December 13 security breach in the Lok Sabha chamber.

Introduced by Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Union minister for electronics and information technology, on Monday, the proposed legislation also seeks to reform and simplify the licensing regime for telecommunications and remove bottlenecks in creating telecom infrastructure.

“The bill will promote structural reforms in the telecom sector,” PTI quoted Vaishnaw as saying during the discussion on the bill.

It also provides for a mechanism to ensure that messages of a user or group of users authorised for response and recovery during a public emergency are routed on priority.

The bill grants the central government the exclusive privilege to “provide telecommunication services”, operate networks and issue licences to telecom service providers.

Introducing changes to the manner in which spectrum is to be allotted for satellite broadband services, the bill states that spectrum for such services can be assigned on administered prices, without auction.

The bill also says that unlawful interception of messages may attract a jail term of up to three years, a fine of up to Rs 2 crore or both. It provides for the creation of a Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.

The messages of news correspondents accredited to the Centre or state governments shall not be intercepted unless their transmission has been prohibited under rules applicable to public emergency and public order, according to the bill.

The bill will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha.