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