Airtel to Waive Aug-Sept Dues in Kashmir as ‘Special Gesture’
Postpaid subscribers the Valley were told they have to clear their dues for Aug-Sept to be able to make calls.
Following a rude shock to Kashmir Valley residents on Monday, 14 October, after postpaid mobile users were asked to clear outstanding bills – from 5 August, when Article 370 was abrogated, till 30 September – in order for connections to be restored, there could be some relief on offer.
Airtel, which has the largest subscriber base in Jammu & Kashmir, in an official statement on Tuesday, told The Quint it, “remains fully committed to Jammu & Kashmir” and had decided to waive off the postpaid rental for the period when services were suspended during the communication blockade as a “special gesture”.
Jammu & Kashmir Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal had announced on Saturday, 12 October, that around 40 lakh postpaid mobile phones in the Valley would become operational Monday noon onwards.
“As a special gesture, the company is waiving off postpaid plan rental charges for the service suspension phase, for Airtel Thanks customers. Eligible customers will be duly notified.”Bharti Airtel in an official statement
However, it is not yet clear when the customers will officially be notified or exactly how many of them are covered under the ‘Airtel Thanks’ subscription model.
Srinagar resident Mohammad Salim Bhatt, an Airtel postpaid user, told The Quint that while his connection was restored on Monday, his father’s Airtel postpaid number is still inactive.
Moreover, while postpaid services have been restored, SMS services, prepaid connections and internet access remain blocked across the region.
“I was in Delhi in September and could pay my bill for August but my father’s dues for both August and September are still pending,” Bhatt said, wondering if he was eligible for a refund.
“Just restoring calling facilities while keeping messaging and internet services blocked is a handicap for us because we can’t have our confusion cleared nor can we make online payments,” he added.
Shayan Nabi, a resident of Baramulla, had told The Quint on Monday that Airtel had waived off his postpaid bill after he had sent them a mail protesting the charges.
Tuesday’s announcement appears to be an expansion of the same decision, to waive the dues of all ‘Airtel Thanks’ customers.
According to subscriber data published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as of 31 July, 56.73 lakh of Jammu & Kashmir’s 1.15 crore mobile subscribers were affiliated to Airtel’s services.
According to official numbers, Kashmir Valley has about 68 lakh subscribers of whom approximately 40 lakh are registered under postpaid schemes.
Jio is the second largest operator in the state with 36.2 lakh subscribers, while BSNL and Vodafone catered to 11.2 and 12 lakh customers respectively.
Sources in BSNL told The Quint that the public sector operator, too, was likely to come up with a compensation scheme for customers who had to pay the dues in order to have their connections restored.
At the time of publication, however, no official announcement had come from BSNL, Jio or Vodafone.
Chaos & Confusion On Monday
The Quint had reported on Monday about the ensuing confusion and anger among residents who were unable to make online payments of bills owing to the internet shutdown and had to travel to local offices of BSNL and other private operators to clear their outstanding bills for August and September.
“I reached the BSNL office at 11 am and could only pay my bills at 1:30 pm. There were at least 500 to 600 people,” said Mohammad Nazir, owner of a medical shop at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk.
Nazir’s brother, 28-year-old Mohammad Masroor, said he was sent a bill of Rs 2,500 for August and September by Airtel.
“I was shocked to see that despite not making a single call, I was asked to pay up Rs 2,500 to have my postpaid number restored,” Masroor told The Quint over landline at his medical store, Kalla Medicaid.
On Tuesday, Masroor said that while he was “relieved to learn that the bills would be waived” he hopes that the “SMS and prepaid services are also restored soon.”
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