Greenpeace accuses telecom firms of spiriting away diesel subsidies

World’s most influential activist group, Greenpeace has accused India’s telecom industry of unfairly helping itself to Rs 2,600 crore worth of fuel subsidy meant for essential services and the poor.

The allegation, made in its latest report on the telecom sector, is based on estimates by the telecom regulator on how much diesel is consumed by India’s mobile towers.

“At current growth rates, the sector would require 26 billion units (KWh) of electricity and 3 billion liters of diesel by 2012, contributing to a much larger carbon footprint than previously estimated,” it said.

Three months ago, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), had pointed out that the industry was using nearly 200 crore (2 billion) litre of diesel — about 3 litre per subscriber — per year. The total cost of the fuel was around Rs6,500 crore per year, at the then prevailing rates. If the price of diesel had not been kept artificially down, the bill would have been higher by around 2,600 crore, according to Greenpeace’s calculations.

The Government spent around Rs 40,000 crore last year keeping the price of diesel low even as oil prices increased across the world. About 30% of the subsidy was used up in cushioning diesel prices.

What has Greenpeace worried is the feverish growth of the Indian telecom sector, which is expected to consume 50% more diesel next year.

“With growth, the sector’s appetite for energy will increase, making it a significant source of GHG emissions unless the industry adopts and advocates renewable energy use and backs laws to cut global warming,” said Mrinmoy Chattoraj, Climate and Energy campaigner, Greenpeace India and co-author of the report.

The telecom sector in India emitted over 5.6 million tonnes of CO2 in 2008 on as a result of diesel use.

“A shift in power sourcing to renewable technologies, such as solar photovoltaic, will result in a close to 300 per cent reduction in total costs for telecom operators, in comparison to a diesel generator (DG) based tower over ten years,” Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace also estimated the investment required to power the entire network towers in the country by renewable is approximately Rs 1,51,000 crore, which, it said, is more economically feasible than diesel based network towers over the 10 year period.

Greenpeace is calling on telecom operators to publicly disclose their annual carbon emissions and shift toward clean source of energy by powering 50 % of their mobile towers through renewable energy by 2015.