Kashmir Pre-paid Mobile Ban Leaves 20,000 Jobless

4 November 2009
The Hindustan Times
Ashiq Hussain

Srinagar: The ban on use of pre-paid SIM cards for mobile phones in Jammu and Kashmir has not only created difficulties for about 3.8 million users but has rendered more than 20,000 people, mostly youth, jobless. This was stated by Bashir Ahmad Dar, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir STD and PCO Owners Association. I think the ban was part of the political package which the Prime Minister offered the people of the state, he said sarcastically. On October 31, the home ministry, citing security concerns, had announced that new pre-paid SIM cards would not be issued in the state and old ones would not be renewed. The ban came into effect a few days after the Prime Minister offered fresh talks with Kashmiris. On an average, each person (dealing in pre-paid SIM cards and recharging them) used to earn Rs 8,000-10,000 a month. Now they are on the street. Unemployment in the state is at its peak. How can the government do this? Bashir said. He said the instructions of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India were followed strictly while verifying credentials of users. For pre-paid and post-paid cards, the verification process is the same. How then are pre-paid cards a security threat and post-paid cards are not? Bashir asked. Mushtaq Ahmad, 29, who lives on the outskirts of Srinagar said, I had taken a loan from a bank to start an outlet selling SIM cards and recharge coupons. How will I repay the loan? I am a graduate and there are no jobs in Kashmir. How can I earn for myself and my family? Where do they (government) want to push us? Ahmad and dozens of dealers like him running STD (subscriber trunk dialing) kiosks and PCOs (public call offices) gathered at a park in Lalchowk in the centre of Srinagar on Wednesday to plan a coordinated programme for mass protests against the ban. In Jammu, home minister P. Chidambaram said on Wednesday, Dont hype the issue as it is in the interest of security of the country and dont send an alarming picture. We have called for a meeting with service providers and we have to reconcile the security of the country and the interest of service providers and whatever decision is in the interest of the country will be taken. (With inputs from HTC, Jammu)