A group of people are arguing with a tall, slender middle-aged person inside a telephone exchange in South Kashmir Pampore Town, 13-kilometres away from the Srinagar. He fixes the landline phones of the area and people are surrounding around him for the restoration of their fixed line phones.
Till August 5, when the entire region was put under a massive communication lockdown including disruption of phone connectivity and internet, he used to spend a great part of the day sitting under the shade of a maple tree in the exchange premises with his colleague Ghulam Mohammad. But both of them have been on their toes after the landline network was restored on September 4.
“The workload is getting on my nerves. I do not eat and sleep on time as the customers even visit my home. Apart from fixing the new connections I have to take care of the old ones too. I am a human being and not a robot,” Mohammad Akram, who was arguing with a group of people, told NewsClick.
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With the restoration of landline connection, linemen like Ghulam and Akram have become the most sought after men in the valley. People camp outside their homes, offer goodies and even pay them extra money to get their landlines restored. But this undue attention has become a burden for some of them.
Ghulam Mohammad has a number of applications in his pocket which are waiting for his approval. He said, “It is my duty to check the feasibility before allotting a new connection. A number of them are pending. I am doing my best to take care of the maximum number of requests. But people still complain.”
As the workload of the linemen increases, the people are finding it hard to locate them as they are busy fixing the lines at varied locations. People across the valley are forced to make multiple visits to the concerned telephone exchanges to get an appointment. “I have been visiting the Soura exchange for the last fifteen days but failed to meet my lineman. My routine for the last two weeks is to visit the exchange and return unsuccessful. All of a sudden, linemen have become the most important men in Kashmir,” Rouf Ahmad, a resident of Soura told NewsClick.
Being the only mode of communication, the residents are thronging the telephone exchanges across Kashmir to either get a new landline connection or reactivate the old ones.
Kashmir’s central telephone exchange in Srinagar is abuzz with customers these days as hundreds of them visit the office to apply for the restoration of their landlines. From the payment counter to the enquiry desk, people are seeking information about their landlines. “I came here to re-activate my landline number which was not in use for over a year as new technologies had replaced it. However, we have no other option but to go back to these old modes of technology. We have been pushed back to the dark ages,” Mushtaq Ahmad, a resident from Soura area who had come to reactive his landline number in the exchange said.
Younis Malik, another customer from Alochibagh in Srinagar said that he has been visiting the exchange for last one week without any success, “We have business outside the state and my parents are there. I used to speak to them daily before the snapping of services and have not spoken since. I am worried about their health,” he said, adding that after completing all the formalities they are denying the connection citing lack of feasibility.
Although the landlines have been restored, it is unable to mitigate the information crisis as majority of the people had moved on from this old communication system with the advent of mobile phone technology. The number of cell phones has already surpassed the number of people here.
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As per the Telephone Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Jammu and Kashmir has a mobile penetration of around 1,02,37,929 GSM cell phones which means there are 109.19 phones for every 100 people. There are 13.84 million phone subscribers in Jammu and Kashmir which is more than the people living here. The valley also holds 1.14% share in India’s total subscriber base. With huge reliance on the cell phones, the restoration of landlines is unable to make a difference.
Rohit Kansal, Principal Secretary Planning, who is also the spokesperson for the government said that all the telephone exchanges are functional in Kashmir. The landline network was restored on the night of September 4. “The situation is being monitored on daily basis and soon the mobile telephones would be considered area wise. Situation is improving so are the services,” he had said.
The author is an independent journalist.