August 5, 2019 changed the political, national, economic, social, legal and demographic status of Jammu and Kashmir forever and with it started unprecedented communication lockdown to neutralize separatists and other antinational elements inside as well as outside the state who can instigate people of our state to mobilize protests like in 2010, 2016 or for that matter since 2008 politicians and rogue elements have been consistently successful in initiating continuous vicious cycle of violence. Communication lockdown is not new to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir as during every encounter with terrorists or cordon and search operations mobile and internet services are suspended for a brief period to stop usage of social networking to mobilize stone pelters but usually BSNL landline as well as broadband services remained operational throughout. But this time GoI has gone a step further and there was complete communication lockdown with no phones except satellite or few BSNL’s own employees holding important positions to run the network and few landlines, no mobile internet or phone services worked. Plan worked very well as no on road mass hysterical protests have been organized and not even a single casualty in the whole valley during this period.
Mobile internet services and mobile services were also suspended in Jammu Division as well but BSNL Broadband and Jio’s FTTH (wherever available) worked throughout this period. In some districts like Poonch and Rajouri only BSNL mobiles were working till August 28 thereby causing unprecedented rush for BSNL mobile SIMs at Jammu Kachi Chawni Exchange and Bahu Plaza with hundreds of people queuing up to get prized BSNL SIM. Since getting new SIM itself is a tedious process which requires online KYC verification which is not possible without internet as such almost whole of Poonch, Rajouri public travelled all the way to Jammu and BSNL was issuing more than a thousand SIMs daily. Jammu people have a different set of problem, blockade of internet, with only BSNL Broadband working, after one week of patience affected public lined up at BSNL office to get landline and broadband activated at any cost but it seems already troubled BSNL is least prepared for the same though this is not the first time that such situation is there in our state as in the past also state administration had stopped mobile services except of BSNL.
BSNL is right now itself tangled in closure/sell out quagmire, once a giant has been biting dust for quite some time now. Delayed salaries of regular employees, no money for spares/ repair work, no money for carriage of equipment, rent for outsourced vehicles, for insurance of own vehicles and even no salaries to outsourced employees for last few months make things worse beyond common man’s imagination. Moreover every employee is just waiting for VRS offer from government to take the benefits and as such no interest in day to day work. Such is the situation right now that BSNL is not in a position to even pay rent of Rani Park city office and as such is vacating the office shortly. Already they have closed cash counter at that place, vacated SDO office of Amphalla and such is the gravity of situation that BSNL doesn’t have money for AMC of lift installed at Exchange Building and all employees are forced to use stairs up to fourth floor and these include heart patients as well. A visit to Rani Park office reveals the true picture as no BSNL forms are available, no one to guide clients, people come from far flung areas only to face hardships and humiliation at the hands of employees. Instead of encashing the opportunity to broaden its client base one can easily see the staff trying to scare away the potential customers by applying one or another method. SDO level officers have miserably failed at both the fronts, neither they are providing services to the old customers nor able to get new installations done in time. No record is there as one can see SDOs struggling to pacify customers, no planning; only excuses are the order of the day. Non feasibility excuse after accepting the form with security fee already deposited makes one feel cheated, but BSNL has no explanation. For a new connection application must have two orders, one for landline and other for broadband but SDOs are unable to release orders for days together and if by chance one is lucky enough to get landline order released he still has to wait for broadband order and as such unnecessary delay and in the meantime affected person is desperately running from one BSNL office to other to get the things moving which otherwise should have been moving smoothly automatically without any delay.
Scenario at exchange is no different as a single new installation requires at least 35 to 45 minutes to make wire connection, configuring pair, test it and finalize the connection. It also requires co-ordination with lineman to make the phone working and then giving password to the end user. In addition to this broadband modems are also tested in the same office. With skeleton staff it seems to be a herculean task at present with additional burden of obliging staff members as well. In the present scenario situation is total chaos with pendency rising every day and no one knowing when will new connection gets operational. On the other hand JioFiber based on FTTH is providing on demand connections wherever they have laid down cables though officially JioFiber has not been launched till date. BSNL also has its own functional FTTH for last so many years but as usual story of no aggressive marketing , no wide area cable laying to reach out to customer, right now no cable or splitters available with them and moreover no intent to widen the customer base.
BSNL in an RTI reply has admitted that it has received complaints in thousands from mobile subscribers across the state of Jammu and Kashmir every year. As on date there are more than twelve lakh registered mobile subscribers with the company in Jammu and Kashmir majority being pre-paid connections. In every financial year company is losing thousands of mobile subscribers and slide is on due to mobile portability. Though of late BSNL tried to cover the things with launch of JK 20 Plan but selling 3G SIMs against rival’s 4G SIMs is not going to work. Despite all these odds against them, some employees are still putting up their best to maximize customer base, but their efforts are let down by the still typical government like attitude of their fellow employees. BSNL is also providing vital communication to remotest area of the state though many of these areas are commercially not viable. This present net blockade has some seriously affected students, patients, businessmen as in this digital age this lockdown at Jammu has virtually made everything irrelevant and everyone is running to somehow get internet connectivity to get things done.
With such a scenario, on one hand BSNL has become the most essential part of the GoI plans for Jammu and Kashmir but on the other hand BSNL doesn’t have the requisite resources to fulfill the challenge. During recently concluded Shri Amaranth Yatra, as always BSNL again set up the requisite infrastructure in place but it is still awaiting its payment in crores for the same.
Same was the scenario in 2014 floods when BSNL again came forward to help Central and State government to reestablish the communication network but got nothing in return. So how beleaguered BSNL is going to survive and serve as the backbone of all government plans is a million dollar question which should be addressed on priority. Central Government has only two options, either they start relying on private operators in crisis like situation which seems almost impossible due to security reasons or Central government should immediately release special package for Jammu and Kashmir BSNL Circle without any further delay as IT and GST returns are approaching deadlines for which internet connectivity is must and on their part top authorities of BSNL should take adequate steps to safeguard customers and provide world class services instead of being in negative state of mind. There is absolutely no space for complacency at any level and authorities must ensure their employees are delivering the services on ground and non performers should immediately be taken to task. Mobilizing the existing staff strength, planning, hiring extra outsourced employees wherever required should be the priority right now. All said and done BSNL is the only reliable option available in our state keeping in view security related issues as stated by our Governor also and as such State administration should immediately take necessary proactive decisions and convey the SOS message to the centre, the sooner the better.