Il­le­gal J&K ‘PCOs’ charge up to 50/min for a call

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - Saleem.Pan­dit @times­group.com

Srinagar: Za­hoor Ah­mad Mir of Tang­marg trav­elled 38km to a friend’s of­fice in Srinagar last Fri­day to make a call to his son, who works for a pri­vate power com­pany in Jammu. This was af­ter a shop­keeper at Pat­tan quoted “call charges” of Rs 50 per minute for us­ing his land­line.

The des­per­a­tion of a Val­ley cut off from the rest of the world for 51 days — and count­ing — has given birth to a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity for many with func­tional land­lines and the in­cli­na­tion to make a quick buck.

“I de­cided to travel all the way to my friend’s of­fice to call my son So­hiab rather than suc­cumb to the de­mands of an un­scrupu­lous shop­keeper. I was shocked to learn that there are many like him tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion,” Za­hoor told TOI.

While not all “op­por­tunis­tic” land­line own­ers are charg­ing peo­ple at Rs 50 a minute for a call, makeshift PCOs are mush­room­ing in street-cor­ner shops across Srinagar as the com­mu­ni­ca­tion lock­down ap­proaches two months.

For ev­ery Za­hoor who re­fuses to be taken ad­van­tage of, there are many oth­ers who qui­etly pay ISD rates to make STD or lo­cal calls from these il­le­gal booths. Ghu­lam Has­san Dar, a res­i­dent of Pal­hal­lan vil­lage in Bara­mulla, paid Rs 30 a minute for a call to his son Mukhtar, a busi­ness­man in Ben­galuru, a few days ago. “My wife and I hadn’t spo­ken him even once in sev­eral weeks. We were so des­per­ate to know if he was well that I thought this was a small price to pay to just hear his voice,” he said on Tues­day.

Syed Afzal of Rainawari in Srinagar rides his scooter to Lal Chowk ev­ery few days to call his daugh­ter Sha­bana The des­per­a­tion of a Val­ley cut off from the rest of the world for 51 days — and count­ing — has given birth to a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity for many with work­ing land­lines and the in­cli­na­tion to make a quick buck

and his three grand­daugh­ters, who live in Delhi, from a friend's of­fice. “Sha­bana helps me con­nect to my other daugh­ter Arusa, who is set­tled in Dubai. Some­times, we have a con­fer­ence call for a cou­ple of min­utes. I have hardly spo­ken to my younger son Syed Afroz, who is also in Dubai, in the past six weeks,” he said. Afzal can’t wait for his mo­bile phone to spring back to life “so that we can be nor­mal peo­ple again”.

Za­hoor, a con­trac­tor, plans to ap­ply for a BSNL land­line con­nec­tion this week so that he no longer has to “run to Srinagar” when­ever he wants to call his son. “Even if the au­thor­i­ties re­store mo­bile broad­band ser­vices soon, there is no guar­an­tee they will not switch off ev­ery­thing the mo­ment there is a law-and-or­der prob­lem. I have re­alised that hav­ing a land­line phone is a must,” he said.

A BSNL of­fi­cial said on Mon­day that 43,400 land­line phones un­der 76 ex­changes were cur­rently func­tional. Of these, around 4,000 are new con­nec­tions given out since the ad­min­is­tra­tion lifted the curbs on land­line

phones in most of the Val­ley.

The on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion blackout has been the longest one in three decades of un­rest in J&K.

While the 3,000-odd PCOs that once used to be the life­line for most peo­ple have long shut shop, many in the Val­ley do not seem to have a prob­lem with their il­le­gal resur­gence till such time mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity is re­stored. “I don’t mind pay­ing for the use of a land­line as long as it is rea­son­able. Like ev­ery­thing else, de­mand and sup­ply de­ter­mine price, espe­cially in a sit­u­a­tion like the one we are in,” said a res­i­dent whose house is in an area not ser­viced by BSNL.

Then there are a few like Mehra­jud­din, who has kept his land­line phone “open for pub­lic use” out­side his gar­ments shop. “I do not charge a ru­pee from any­one who wants to con­nect with a fam­ily mem­ber,” he said. “If we in Kash­mir don’t stand by each other, who will?”

The CRPF, too, has set up com­mu­ni­ca­tion tents for civil­ians at some places in Srinagar. Iron­i­cally, dis­con­tent is brew­ing among se­cu­rity per­son­nel who don’t reg­u­larly have ac­cess to phones to stay in touch with their fam­i­lies.

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