As many as 1,500 mobile towers and telecom gear owned by Reliance Industry’s Jio were vandalised in Punjab allegedly by farmers protesting the new agricultural legislations, amid fear and resentment that the reforms will pave the way for corporate exploitation, NDTV reported on Monday.

A representative of the telecom company told the news channel that multiple acts of vandalism and arson, including physical damage of towers and theft of generators, had led to power disruptions in parts of the state. The state police had not taken action against the perpetrators as of Monday.

The alleged attacks started last week as protestors vented their anger against the firm owned by billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani, who is seen as one of the major beneficiaries of the farm laws. In Moosa village of Mansa district, one pole connected to the tower was thrown away while a cable box was also found burnt. Protestors in Jalandhar allegedly burnt some bundles of Jio’s fibre cable.

As many as 176 towers have been damaged since Saturday, two unidentified officials told PTI. In some incidents, telecom technicians were allegedly harassed on the job.

“Incidents of snapping of power lines to attempts to axe the towers have been reported from different parts of Punjab,” an official said. “Site managers are slapped and abused for trying to persuade protestors from damaging sites.”

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday had appealed to farmers to avoid vandalism. “Pointing out that telecom connectivity had become even more critical for people amid the Covid pandemic, the chief minister urged the farmers to show the same discipline and sense of responsibility which they had been exercising during their protest at the Delhi border, which has completed one month, and also earlier during their agitation in the state,” a statement issued by the his office said.

Singh urged farmers to understand that such actions were not in the interests of the people of Punjab. He added that the disruption of telecom services in several parts of the state was not only affecting students, dependent entirely on online education, but also hampering the daily life of people working from home due.

But the attacks have continued.

On Monday, Singh issued another stern warning, saying he would not allow Punjab to be “plunged into anarchy” or tolerate destruction of any private or public property. The chief minister said that while his government had not objected to, or stopped, peaceful protests in the state, damage to property and inconvenience to people will not be tolerated.

Farmer leaders deny involvement

Farmer union leaders, however, denied any involvement. “We never gave such a call, rather we were the first organisation to tell our members that they should not resort to snapping power supply or any other damage to mobile towers,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) Vice President Shingaara Singh Maan told The Indian Express. “Our focus is only on boycotting a telecom company.”

Krantikari Kisan Union President Dharampal said that his group had only asked farmers to boycott goods produced by corporations. “Our focus is only on boycotting and nothing else,” he said.

All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee member Jagmohan Singh alleged that some miscreants were behind the attack. “The Samyukt Kisan Morcha and 32 farmer unions have issued appeals to farmers twice to avoid such actions,” he added, according to The Indian Express. “Our protests have remained peaceful till now and let them run in a peaceful manner ahead as well.”