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1.4M people give up phones in Indian Kashmir

Despite communications blockade, residents keep getting bills for phone and internet services they are not using

Cheena Kapoor   | 18.02.2020
1.4M people give up phones in Indian Kashmir


Due to the internet shutdown and communications blockade, telecom companies have lost 1.4 million subscribers in Indian-administered Kashmir, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). 

The data accessed by Anadolu Agency shows that through last November, the telecom sector recorded negative growth of 12.59% in the region, with 1.46 million people surrendering their phone connections.

The communication blockade in the region began last Aug. 5 when India revoked Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy and split it into two union territories.

In the first month of shutdown, the region started showing negative growth of 1.14%, with 132,334 subscribers giving up their mobile connections.

Ironically, while there were no mobile internet and broadband services, residents claim that they are constantly getting bills from telecom companies for services they have not used.

Several subscribers said they were hoping that charges for the period of communication shutdown will be waived as was done in the aftermath of 2016 street protests and 2014 floods in Kashmir.

In July 2016, during a lockdown following the killing of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani, 171,271 people disconnected their services.

“People could not recharge their phones or use any services, which led to an exponential rise in the number of disconnections,” said TRAI officials. At that time, the overall subscriber base of telecom companies fell from 10 million to 9.5 million.

Even as the Indian government recently restored partial internet services in the region after almost six months of the clampdown, Kashmiri businessmen say, they are still struggling to revive their businesses. Recently the government restored access to 2G services and access to 1,485 whitelisted websites. The internet ban in the region is believed to be the longest communications blackout in the history of any democratic country.

No services but bills

For Hashim Javaid, 32, a travel agent based in Srinagar, the summer capital, there has been no income over the past few months. The only earning member of the family of five, who earned his living making bookings for tourists, has been surviving, with his family, on their meager savings.

“Due to an internet shutdown, our business has gone haywire. There was no way to receive online bookings, to communicate with tourists and transfer money. All this led to him eventually losing customers,” he told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

But what has hurt him more is that despite all the hardships he faced due to the internet shutdown, he is being forced to pay high internet bills to avoid disconnection.

“For the last few months, when there has been no internet and my business almost shut down, I am paying 1200 Indian rupees [$17] each month for my Airtel dongle and another 1000 rupees [$14] each for the Airtel and BSNL phone, that I was using for bookings,” said Javaid.

He had asked for disconnection in December, but the telecom companies asked him to pay a $15 disconnection fee. “When the government deprived us of communications, it should have asked the telecom companies to not charge us," he said.

Kashmir government officials say as many as 50,000 people scheduled to perform Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca) were unable to go in without communication.

“People from Kashmir go for Umrah in large numbers. After the communication blockade, various operations for getting visas, tickets, etc came to a grinding halt. Some travel agents shifted to the Indian capital New Delhi which helped a few people go. This is indeed a loss to the government as well,” Sheikh Aashiq, head of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Anadolu Agency.

“Losses due to the shutdown have been high. Every sector has suffered huge losses. Be it handicrafts, silk carpets, information, and technology, e-commerce or logistics, most were affected by this internet gag,” added Aashiq.

A preliminary economic loss assessment report released by KCCI estimated the economic losses from Aug. 5 to Dec. 3 at more than $2 billion.

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