Kavita Suri

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STD/PCO, Internet ban puts subscribers on receiving end

Poor, hapless people sufferers, clandestinely work going on at exorbitant rates 

People of Jammu and Kashmir state are facing tough time these days. Faced with terrorism and bloodshed for the past 12 years, the hapless people are now facing the wrath of the government, ironically for those deeds that they have never done. For the snapping of internet and STD/PCO facilities from the entire state for the past over a month now, has affected their lives badly.  The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), following a decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on security (CCS), had withdrawn the Internet and STD facilities from the entire state on 28 December last year. The intelligence agencies in the state feared that the defense related information was being leaked out through PCO booths. The argument included that the militants were using laptops and computers for communicating with their mentors all over the country and abroad. Besides, they were also using Public Call Office (PCOs) to make calls to each other, hence the snapping of the ties.  

Snapping of the facility abruptly had come as a shock to most of the people and security personnel as it was done at a time when tension at the borders was at its peak and families back home were worried about their welfare. Besides, the government decision has also affected over 6000 STD/PCO operators functioning all over the state. Of these, 2500 alone are in Kashmir valley. However, there is no ban on the private or domestic STD connections and government offices. The only sufferers are the poor people who had no STD connections in their houses.   

In the past 54 years, it is for the first time that the government has withdrawn such facilities from Jammu and Kashmir. Even such a move was not taken during 1971 Indo-Pak war. People here feel as if they are living in the primitive ages, with no connection with the outside world except through television. Besides, they also believe that this ban is not effective because if a militant has to talk to his bossess, he still can do it from the STD connection of an individual and there is nothing denying that fact that in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, there are tens and thousands of militant sympathizers including the high profile people who would willing offer them their telephone to make calls to their links outside.                         

“Not even that, as the STDs in government offices are also functioning, these people, I am sure, would be using many of these also for making the long distance calls.”said a resident. What substantiates his statement is the fact that many people in J&K, especially the surrendered militants taken into the fold of state police are working in the police department. Allegations are galore that even in Civil Secretariat, many such anti-national elements have been misusing the internet and STD. Thus the ban has not been effective and has hit the genuine people only.  

Many offices in the state- Civil Secretariat, Reserve Bank of India, Regional Research Laboratory, State Bank of India, Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Jammu University and other such offices- are have their own internet servers and are functioning normally.  While locals in Jammu and Kashmir are up in arms against the government decision to snap STD and ISD services in the state, the worst victims of the decision seem to be the security personnel deployed here. Though in some army areas they have their own STDs, but in most of the parts of the state, the security personnel deployed used to call up their homes through STD/ PCOs. “We used to remain in touch with our families through STD and a call home once a week kept us informed of welfare of our people but now we are not able to do so,” said a soldier posted in Rajouri adding that they were working in a tense situation in Kashmir and did not know when the militants would strike. However, they used to feel relaxed after talking to their people at home. This move has evoked strong resentment from traders, businessmen and public call office (PCO) operators in the state. 

The Kashmir Traders Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) said the move has rendered thousands of youth jobless. People all over the state have been voicing their protest. Jammu Cyber Café association, in a press conference, demanded immediate restoration of the internet facility in the region alleging that the anti-national elements of were using internet facility of government offices but the cyber café owners were made the scapegoats. All Jammu and Kashmir STD PCO Holders Association has also criticized the Centre for imposing ban on STD and ISD facilities in the state. Mr. Swarn Das, president of the Association said that they have sent a memorandum to the Union Communications Minister highlighting the problems after the facility has been withdrawn. There are a large number of ex-servicemen and handicapped persons who are running PCOs and they have become unemployed after the government move. He also expressed surprise over the decision and said same facility is still available in the private numbers. They even observed 14 January as Black day.   

Mr. R.S.Puri, president of Jammu Cyber Café Association said that in this age of information a technology when the entire country is trying to compete with the rest of the world by making manifold uses of internet and computers, the residents of Jammu and Kashmir are being made to suffer for no fault of theirs. He said that this has not only resulted in rendering hundreds of educated youth who have invested lakhs of rupees in establishing their cyber cafes in the state, jobless and forces a some of them to close down their business. Though the poor and hapless people are still awaiting for the CCS to meet and decide to resume the services, meanwhile, many cyber cafes and STDs are clandestinely operating in the state. Some of the cyber cafes are charging exorbitantly (anything between Rs 350 to Rs 500 an hours) as they connect internet through Delhi or Punjab using their domestic STDs and run the shops thus doing brisk business. Similarly, the STDs are also running at many places as their owners have also converted their domestic connections to the commercial ones. However, they are taking utmost precaution while operating as the government has strictly put on a ban on cyber cafes and STD connections and there is strict punishment for the violators also. While, many people can afford such exorbitant rates, the real sufferers still are the commoners.

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