Arteev Sharma in Jammu
The prolonged duration of the mobile Internet blockade in Jammu and Kashmir continues to make a substantial impact on normal life in the 10 districts of Jammu region — considered “peaceful” in the troubled UT’s security establishment categorisation.
From the industrial sector to education and online businesses (e-commerce) to banking transactions, the ban has completely choked all online processes, thereby compounding the day-to-day problems of the residents, besides forcing them to rely only on cash to make payments.
On August 17, the J&K administration had restored slow-speed 2G mobile Internet in five districts — Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi — but withdrew the order after 36 hours following “a technical glitch” and rumours.
What was more ironical was that the state administration (J&K was reorganised into a Union Territory on October 31) had on October 18 constituted a sub-committee to suggest measures to encourage digitisation of payments and enhance financial inclusion through digitisation in J&K amid the ongoing Internet blockade.
Thousands of students, particularly belonging to the rural and mountainous belts of the region, have been the worst sufferers as they have been facing umpteen hardships to get online study material and apply for various competitive exams through the online process.
Govt offices not untouched
Work in various government departments has also been severely affected following the suspension of Internet services. The e-tenders for various projects and development activities received either a poor response or were cancelled. The suspension of Internet services also made it almost impossible for contractors to bid online for tenders.
The blockade also rendered non-functional the Aadhaar-based biometric attendance system introduced to improve punctuality in the government offices of the erstwhile state of J&K.
Since August 5, when mobile Internet was snapped across J&K, authorities have virtually stopped assessing the biometric attendance because most of the departments had introduced the system through mobile Internet since landline telephones were available only in offices located within the city limits.
A government official said, “We have restarted the manual attendance system in most of the departments because almost all offices located in the peripheries have stopped sending biometric attendance data at the higher level. Due to non-availability of mobile Internet, it is impossible to continue with biometric attendance.” There were about 4.5 lakh employees in the erstwhile state of J&K, including Ladakh.
Industrial sector bleeds
Annil Suri, a noted industrialist, says the effect of the Internet ban has become more cumulative now. “Since the government has laid thrust on online transactions, the continuous snapping of Internet is affecting industrial as well as trade sector badly. The businessmen and industrialists can’t remain sitting in office all the time to work on broadband services,” he adds.
“The speed of broadband is also quite erratic and it becomes difficult many a time to upload documents. Since the e-tendering process has come into vogue, it is difficult to upload as well as download tenders. The industrialists and business class have been facing untold hardships in filing GST, EPF and other returns,” Suri says.
Parag Abrol, a Jammu-based distributor, says the Internet ban has affected the small and medium enterprises more as the big enterprises managed lease lines.
The business environment, that was forced to shift to digital platforms even for basic communication and banking needs, gradually synced fully for all business needs. Now, the app-based businesses like travel, sales, collection besides service providers and web developers are either closing down or looking at other little available options. It has increased the cost of operations and more time is being spent.
The anger against the continuous Internet blockade has been growing among students as various student organisations have now started raising their voice by holding protests.
“The Digital India concept has completely collapsed in J&K after the Internet ban. Students are the worst sufferers of this illogical continuity of the ban as they have been struggling to apply online for various competitive exams. They have been running from one end to another to fill the application forms. Students are unable to get online study material while the e-learning process has also come to a standstill,” said a protesting activist of NSUI at Jammu University.
Sachin Sharma, a resident of Pacca Danga area in old city, says, “After demonetisation, the people got wary of keeping cash at home. Most of the shopping was being done through cards but after the communication system collapsed as a result of the Internet ban, it is back to cash. What kind of a joke is this?”
Partial ban in ladakh: ‘peaceful’ kargil suffers, leh unaffected
Jammu: The remote region of Ladakh, where Internet is generally a major issue, has been bearing the brunt of partial mobile Internet blockade post the revocation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir in August.
While the Buddhist-inhabited Leh district remains unaffected from Internet blockade, Muslim-dominated Kargil, which has witnessed a series of shutdowns and protests in the past three months, continues to be deprived of connectivity.
Fearing a law and order problem, the authorities had snapped mobile Internet in Kargil. However, people feel the blockade is unjustified. “Since there has been no law and order problem in Kargil, there is no rationale behind the ban on mobile Internet. Being a remote district, Kargil has been suffering because of the ban. Students have been facing problems in filling online forms and applying for jobs in different parts of the country. Traders, businessmen and contractors too have been suffering,” says Nasir Hussain Munshi, general secretary of Joint Action Committee (JAC), an amalgam of political, social and religious groups in Kargil. He says they have also raised this with L-G RK Mathur, who has assured them of early resolution of the issue.
Murtaza Ali, a student from Kargil, says students have been at the receiving end. “We have not been able to apply for jobs and various courses outside J&K and Ladakh because of the ban on Internet. Kargil has only seen peaceful protests, but the authorities seem to be punishing the entire populace without any reason,” he says.
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