Srinagar: Grappling with limited access and low speed internet, the e-commerce sector in Kashmir is facing near extinction as government’s partial restoration of internet services failed to rekindle online business in the region.
Prior to the internet blockade in Kashmir, Owais Haqqani ran a successful online venture under Alharmain Publications. But, as internet services were shut in the region since August 5, following the abrogation of Article 370, his online operations have come to a complete halt.
“Since August, I have not made even one delivery. Before that, I would sell around 500 books per month on an average and carry out deliveries across the country,” Haqqani said.
After nearly six months, the government on January 24 restored mobile data services in all networks including pre-paid and post paid sims, however, the speed was restricted to 2G only. In addition, the government also restricted access to what they termed a list of “whitelisted sites” – which meant surfing within 300 websites only, excluding social media.
Even as global e-commerce sites like Amazon are among the whitelisted sites, almost all e-commerce sites within Kashmir valley are in the list of banned websites.
“Our books were sold through Amazon and Flipkart but a majority of seller-central website including ours are still banned, so, it is not possible to make any purchase. And, since it is banned we cannot even upload our products,” Haqqani added.
Also read: Kashmir Admin Preparing ‘Blacklist’ to Ban Several URLs Before Restoring Internet Fully
The government’s policy of whitelisting sites has provided access to the people of the region to certain websites but, many consider it merely an “eyewash.” The government has kept a majority of online networks out of bounds for people and even those that are whitelisted cannot be accessed due to abysmally low internet speed.
Umar Bin Ahmad ran an online venture Modest Attire with global operations. Like Haqqani, Umar says he has made no online sales since August. Umar’s clothing venture was thriving successfully and he had employed around 25 persons. But, rather than expanding his operations, the internet blockade, he says, came like a death-knell. “Its heartbreaking to say that I have laid off 19 employees due to the blackout,” Umar said.
Based in Srinagar, Umar said he was optimistic when he heard about the restoration of internet services. “I was even planning to bring some employees back. But, 2G services are not helpful at all,” he said.
In its preliminary economic loss assessment report following the August 5 crisis, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), claimed the present disruption has resulted in loss of jobs in lakhs. It claimed many business establishments have closed down already or are contemplating closure. “The sectors directly dependent on internet like information technology and e-commerce have been ruined,” the report said.
For both Haqqani and Umar to restart their operations, high speed internet or broadband services are a prerequisite and so is the whitelisting of their respective sites.
According to official figures, there are around 20,000 BSNL broadband connections in Kashmir valley and a majority of them are shut. Many of them provide internet services to offices, business establishments, shops and even government offices.
A government official told NewsClick that the government is working with telecom companies to create a firewall for blacklisted sites on broadband services. For many of these sites, especially associated with e-commerce, the issue is that they sometimes open in different URLs like payment gateways. “The online networks are linked and sometimes hyperlinked and it is not possible to have a uniform technology for such a task and then there is leakage through VPNs,” the official added.
Also read: J&K: Internet to Be Partly Restored, But No Access to Social Media