Determined to ensure children from his neighbourhood do not miss online classes, an IITian's almost 15-month struggle has paid off as his remote village in Himachal Pradesh has finally got 4G mobile connectivity thanks to a new tower in the new year.
It all started with the March 2020 lockdown.
Prior to March 2020, Ph.D scholar at IIT Bombay, Tejasvi Chauhan regularly faced problems of phone connectivity as he could not talk to his grandmother because his remote village in Himachal Pradesh had no phone connectivity. But the lockdown in that month brought him home and his problem became acute.
Chauhan could not attend his online classes. At the same time, he realised that children in his neighbourhood also had no access to online education. There were 1,000-odd students across age groups. In case of a medical emergency too, the area faced problems as there was no connectivity.
The village, which is 80 km from Shimla, had no direct road connectivity till last year. People needed a 20-minute trek to reach the Panchayat village that had a road.
The problem was not restricted to just his village, Baag under Jodna Gram Panchayat of Chopal block in Shimla district, but several villages under nearby Panchayats too.
Chauhan, who is pursuing PhD in hydrology and climate change at IIT Bombay, is also one of the Prime Minister's Research Fellows (PMRF). Announced in 2018-19, the PMRF scheme is designed for improving the quality of research in various higher educational institutions across India, including all the IITs, IISERs and IISc, Bengaluru.
He started reaching out to different people. The mobile service providers were reluctant to invest money into another tower as there was one very nearby, as shown on the map. "But what they failed to appreciate was that there was a range in between and this ridge was taller than the tower, so villages on our side never got proper signal," Chauhan told IANS on phone.
Installing a repeater was an option but BSNL and other private companies did not budge and getting it on their own would have been illegal.
One of the options was to have temporary connections as are provided during disaster management as mentioned in research papers by one of his teachers, Professor Rajkumar Pant. The latter, however, suggested Chauhan to look for permanent solutions instead. He also put the PhD scholar in touch with IIT alumni, Sagar Sharma, a scientist with a government agency.
Through Sharma, Chauhan reached out to the Ministry of Communications that has a Universal Service Obligation Fund exactly for erecting towers and getting better communication facilities to remote areas.
Chauhan then approached the Pradhan of his village and got an application signed from him. That was in August 2020. Then, he got it endorsed by the local MLA and finally went to local MP Suresh Kashyap. He took the matter up with the Ministry of Communications and the tower was finally sanctioned.
Then came the next set of challenges. Although the work for construction of this tower started in January 2021, logistic problems caused a lot of delay. "Sometimes, heavy snowfall in winters and frequent landslides in monsoon that broke road connectivity meant the material and equipment did not reach our village in time," the civil engineer from NIT Hamirpur said.
"Work completed only in December 2021 and now finally in the new year, my village has proper 4G connectivity," Chauhan said, glad that he could ensure connectivity for students to not miss their online classes.