Kashmiris Asked to Pay Postpaid Phone ‘Dues’ for Aug-Sept Blockade
To be able to make calls, Kashmir’s postpaid users have been asked to first clear the dues for August & September.
In a decision that has come as a rude shock to the Kashmir Valley’s residents, postpaid mobile users have been asked to clear their outstanding bills from 5 August, when Article 370 was abrogated, till 30 September, in order to use the services.
The Quint reached out to several Kashmiri residents, who said they felt it was “very unfair” to have to pay for a service they were denied by the government for more than 70 days.
Jammu and Kashmir Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal announced on Saturday, 12 October, that around 40 lakh postpaid mobile phones would be operational Monday noon onward. There are approximately 68 lakh mobile connections in the Valley.
While postpaid services have been restored, prepaid connections and Internet access remain blocked across the region.
Moreover, since Internet in the Valley is still down, residents are unable to make online payments of bills and have to travel to local offices of BSNL and other private operators to clear their outstanding bills for August and September.
‘Asked to Pay Rs 2,500 for August-September’
Many spoke with The Quint about the chaos and long queues at BSNL and other operators’ offices.
“I reached the BSNL office at 11 am today and could only pay my bills at 1:30 pm. There were over at least 500 people,” said Mohammad Nazir, owner of a medical shop at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk.
“The news is saying that postpaid lines are open but fact is there is a lot of confusion and many lines are still locked due to non-payment. This is unfair,” he added.
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.
“It is also shocking because my postpaid plan with Airtel is of Rs 399 a month. How am I asked to pay Rs 2,500? There appears to be no end to our communication woes,” Masroor added.
Everyday activities have remained disrupted across Kashmir since 5 August, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and provided for its reorganisation into two Union Territories – J&K and Ladakh – from 31 October.
‘How Is This Fair?’
Shayan Nabi, a resident of Baramullah, had to pay a total amount of Rs 1,102 for the months of August and September in order to avail calling facilities on his BSNL postpaid connection.
“How is this fair? Why should we have to pay over thousand rupees for a service we had no access to and which was shut down by the government itself?” Nabi told The Quint.
“Luckily, I am outside Kashmir at the moment and could pay it online. But my family and friends cannot do so. it is the government that should be compensating us for denying us services and here we are paying for something we did not get ” Nabi added.
‘Pay Now, Protest Later’ in Kashmir
When asked if people in Srinagar were protesting against this unfair charge, a resident said, “Protest has no meaning here anymore.”
Gripped by a sense of desperation to get their phone lines restored, many users chose to pay up, despite major billing discrepancies, and raise the issue with authorities later.
Nazir Masoodi, NDTV’s Jammu and Kashmir correspondent, said, “People have no option but to go and pay for it. So, people are saying they rather get compensated.”
Masoodi said his own BSNL postpaid connection had yet not been restored despite paying the dues on 14 October.
“As far as BSNL is concerned, I had to go pay my dues for the last two-and-a-half-months which I had not used. Even after I paid the bill Monday afternoon. I think it will take another 24 hours,” Masoodi added.
Confusion & Chaos
All the residents of Kashmir whom The Quint spoke with said that Monday, 14 October, was characterised by a sense of confusion over unpaid postpaid bills. From ‘Why are we being asked to pay?’ to ‘Will we get compensated?’, a variety of queries dominated conversations in the long queues at telecom offices as well as on the streets.
While Shayan Nabi said that Airtel had waived his bill for September after he wrote to them protesting against the bill, Srinagar’s Masroor said he was charged more than double by Airtel despite not making a single call or using mobile data over 70 days.
“I have still not paid the Rs 2,500 I have been charged by Airtel because my bill amount for two months should be Rs 800. I have only gotten my BSNL number running for now,” Masroor said.
NDTV’s Nazeer Masoodi added that “There was a huge problem for the people to pay these bills. They have had to stand in long queues at the offices to pay them.”
As of 7 pm, there was no statement from any of the telecom service providers about compensation to residents of Kashmir valley for charges billed to them for August and September.
(With additional inputs by Ahmed Ali Fayyaz in Srinagar)
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