‘Thought I’d wish my friends a happy new year’: Kashmiris disappointed as postpaid SMS services resume only for BSNL contrary to govt claims

The Jammu and Kashmir administration has claimed that it has restored SMS services for postpaid mobile phones in Kashmir from the midnight of 31 December, 2019. However, as of now, the service has been restored only for BSNL users.

On New Year’s Eve, Maheen Jan, who has an Airtel postpaid connection, stayed up till midnight, hoping that she would be able to message her friends. She had even typed out several SMSs to her friends to wish them for the new year. However, she was disappointed.

Jan said, “I thought SMS services would resume at 12 am, but that didn’t happen. I had compiled all the messages, and had to just send them at 12 am. But when I typed the ‘send’ icon, a message saying ‘failed to send messages’ appeared.  I was so disheartened. This incident gave me another reason for distrust the government.”

Like Jan, Mommin Shabir, a student of Class 12, could not sleep till 3 am in the night, with the hope that he would be able to send SMSs, only to be disappointed. “I thought I would wish my friends a happy new year,” Shabir, who has a Jio postpaid connection, said.

Another student, Ubeer Shah, who has postpaid mobile connections of Jio and BSNL, was only able to send SMSs through the latter network. He rued, “We have been saying for a long time that we need SMS facility to get OTPs for several purposes. But no one listens to us.”

On Wednesday morning, Divisional Commissioner Baseer Khan confirmed that SMS services have only resumed for BSNL users. An Airtel official in Kashmir said that the order to restore SMS services is “under implementation.”

On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir administration spokesman Rohit Kansal had told reporters, “It has been decided to restore internet connectivity to all government hospitals with effect from midnight of 31 December besides fully restoring SMS on mobile phones.” However, the SMS facility has only been restored for BSNL phones.

Meanwhile, internet and pre-paid mobile services are yet to be restored for Kashmiris.

On 5 January, the internet blackout and suspension of SMS services in the Kashmir Valley will complete five months. The state had witnessed a complete communication blackout on 5 August, after the Centre effectively scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories.

On 14 October, the administration resumed postpaid mobile services in the Valley. Subsequently, there was a huge rush at mobile showrooms of people who wanted to get postpaid services activated.

When the government resumed postpaid mobile services in the Valley, there were 1,46,742 lakh Jio users, 86,700 Airtel users, 16,642 Vodafone Idea users, and 98,600 BSNL users. However, many users registered themselves after postpaid services were restored.

Before that, only about 12,000 users were in a ‘white list’ (connections that were made functional), while the rest were in the blacklist. According to a report in The Print, most users whose connections were made functional in the ‘white list’ were state administrative officials, and officers of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Army and paramilitary forces.

People in Kashmir are also facing problems due to the ban on prepaid services. Many are visiting Banihal, located 108 kilometres from Srinagar, to port their numbers.

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