Srinagar: The authorities on Monday restored postpaid mobile services in Kashmir after a gap of over 70 days — a move that drew a mixed response with many hailing the move, while several others said it was unlikely to improve the situation in the Valley.
Mobile services for the general public were restored for the first time since the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and came only days after authorities lifted the advisory that had asked tourists not to visit Kashmir. Mobile phone services were suspended from midnight on 4 August, a day before Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced the revocation of the state's special status.
On Saturday, the government had made an announcement that mobile services would be restored from midday on Monday. The cell phones of some senior government officials were however restored only a few days after the revocation of special status, while several bureaucrats have also been using the satellite phones which were issued to them. The police had also made requests to telecom authorities to restore the phones of some senior officials.
However despite services being restored, a large number of pre-on-post customers couldn't use their phones as their prepaid recharge amount had been exhausted. A bulk of the pre-on-post service is provided by Jio in Kashmir, while Airtel and BSNL serve the largest chunk of postpaid customers. A senior official working with a private telecom company said that the "pre-on post service is considered to be a postpaid service by the government and has been resumed... The pre-on-post plan is specific to Jammu and Kashmir and was launched keeping into view the uncertain situation here. A customer pays a very meagre bill on a monthly basis and enjoys the services of a prepaid connection as well by buying a recharge in advance."
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, however said that the "restoration issues" of pre-on post service subscribers will be looked into. "We have decided to restore all the postpaid services," he noted. For the regular postpaid customers, telecom companies have waived the bill amount for the month of August, while they are also looking at waiving the bill for September. The decision has enabled access to the uninterrupted mobile phone services. An official from a private telecom company said on condition of anonymity that the "grace period for the payment of bill for the month of September has not expired as yet". "The bill has to be paid within 15 days of its generation and there are still a few days left for the bill to be cleared," he said.
After the revocation of special status, authorities had barred all communication facilities including cable TV networks in the first few days, while public movement on roads was restricted amid the curfew-like situation in Kashmir. Landline phones and cable services were then restored, before the decision to resume postpaid mobile services was taken. However, there is still no word from the government on when prepaid cell phone services will be restored in Kashmir.
The Valley has witnessed a complete shutdown with shops and business establishments remaining shuttered during the day since the abrogation of special status. The shops are opened only for a few hours in the morning in some pockets, while they remain open during evening hours at other places. Public transport however remains off the roads.
Since the revocation of special status, the intensity of public demonstrations has however declined considerably as authorities have detained hundreds of stone-pelting youths. A large number of pro-India as well as separatist leaders are also facing detention. Three former chief ministers — Mehbooba Mufti, Omar and Farooq Abdullah — are among scores of leaders who are under detention.
After the restoration of mobile services, many people made calls to their loved ones to enquire about their wellbeing. President of Parimpora Fruit Mandi, Bashir Ahmad Bashir, said that the restoration of cell phone services was a 'welcome' move. "It is a welcome step by the government. The fruit industry was severely hit due to the communication blockade. We will be able to find out the rates of the fruits from the dealers in Delhi now. Nearly 70 percent of the fruit is yet to be harvested," he said.
Faiz Ahmad Bakshi, a social activist, however said that the restoration of mobile services won't help greatly in easing the situation. "The core issue remains the settlement of Kashmir problem and there is severe resentment among the people over the revocation of Article 370," he said, adding that the tourism sector "will not benefit until the situation on the ground improves completely".
"Kashmir has witnessed a shutdown while internet services still remain barred. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself said that it will take four months to restore normalcy," he said.
Gowhar Maqbool Mir, a hotelier in Srinagar, said that the "restoration of postpaid mobile services was helping people remain in touch with their loved ones, but won't relieve us from the trauma to which we have been subjected... We have faced massive business losses due to the communication blockade."
Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd which owns Reliance Jio is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd, the publisher of Firstpost
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Updated Date: Oct 15, 2019 11:46:55 IST