Growing import of telecom equipment — particularly of critical components from China — has forced the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to step up its security surveillance besides asking the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to take measures to boost indigenous manufacturing to meet the requirements of the fast-growing sector.

While the law enforcement and security agencies have alerted its vigilance network, the MHA has been regularly writing to the DoT on security-related issues. Notably, in its recent report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee — that deals with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology — has raised its concern over the growing import of telecom equipment and also that of SIM cards.

In his recent communication to Telecom Secretary R. Chandrasekhar, Home Secretary R. K. Singh said: “The DoT may kindly recall that it had agreed to the view that long-term security lies in an increased production of critical components in India. To this end, the DoT had agreed to formulate and put non-security measures such as incentive regimes in place. It had also been agreed that the DoT will ensure creation of adequate national test bed capabilities within the next two years ... We shall be grateful if we are apprised of the steps taken in this regard.”

This letter highlights the MHA's disagreement with the DoT's new security guidelines to operators issued in May. Mr. Singh has asked the DoT to ensure that the operators should induct only those network elements into their telecom networks which have been got tested as per the relevant contemporary Indian or international security standards.

Ironically, despite massive growth of the telecom sector in the last decade, the DoT still has no proper mechanism to test telecom equipment in the country, though a centre is now coming in Bangalore. The DoT solely depends on the self-certification mechanism of telecom operators and equipment providers on issues related to security.

Moreover, the government has so far failed to give the much-needed boost to local manufacturing of telecom equipment, particularly of critical network-related paraphernalia, to minimise security threat. Today, Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE are India's biggest suppliers of hardware and software. Imports of telecom equipment have been constantly rising. In 2007-08, imports of telecom equipment stood at Rs.36,256 crore, which went up to Rs.46,809 crore in 2008-09 and Rs.42,444 crore in 2009-10. It is likely to touch Rs.50,000 crore this fiscal to meet the requirements of setting up 3G and high-speed broadband networks. Significantly, one issue that caught the Parliamentary Standing Committee's attention was import of SIM cards and the threat it poses to national security, an issue which was even highlighted by the MHA. It also raised concerns over high dependence on import of equipment from China.

“The committee is surprised to note that the Department (DoT) did not notice any security threats due to import of SIM cards before the matter was pointed out by the MHA,” it said. The committee observed that “importing of SIM cards and telecom equipment from the different countries, especially China, is a big threat to the national security” and recommended that “all initiatives to have indigenous SIM cards as well as other telecom equipment should be explored” by the government.

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Security on the wireApril 12, 2012