Kashmir residents thronging Banihal to use internet, get prepaid sims changed to postpaid
Banihal, along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, is agog with activities over the past one month, thanks to the resumption of the train service in Kashmir and the normal functioning of the internet in the highway township.
The resumption of the train service between Srinagar and Banihal on November 17 last year after remaining suspended for over three months following the nullification of Article 370 saw residents of Kashmir thronging the highway town, which falls in the Jammu region, to get access to the internet facility and convert prepaid mobile SIM cards to postpaid.
The internet services continue to remain barred in the entire Valley except for some government offices, hospitals and business establishments since August 5 last year, the day the Centre announced abrogation of Article 370 provisions and bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
While the postpaid mobile phone service was restored in the Valley on October 14 last year after remaining suspended for 72 days, the prepaid mobile service is still blocked.
Banihal, which houses the Jawahar Tunnel, known as the gateway to Kashmir, is just 110 kilometres from Srinagar and a two-hour journey by train.
'Over half a dozen internet cafes are functional in the town and many telecom service providers are having good business, mostly because of the heavy rush of students, employment seekers, businessmen and professionals from the Valley,' Danish Muzaffar, a local, told PTI.
He said since the train arrives from Kashmir at 10.30am and departs at 3.15pm daily, majority of the visitors return the same day but many prefer to stay overnight to complete their work, also boosting the business of hotel and restaurant.
'Due to the heavy rush of the customers at the internet cafes, we sometimes are unable to file our reports in time. The rush increased manifold after the resumption of the train service,' Muzaffar said.
Bilal Ahmad Bhat, who owns one of the internet cafes in the town, said the internet speed was a problem earlier but now it is normal and the users leave satisfied after finishing their work.
On the complaints of overcharging, Bhat said, 'The customers are charged as per normal rates but since there are frequent power cuts, we have to use the generators and in such a case, the customers have to pay extra money.'
The internet service in most parts of the Jammu region, where it was suspended, was restored by August end due to overall normal law and order situation.
Hotelier Manzoor Ahmad said winter usually remains a lean period for their business but this time the occupancy is around 100 per cent.
'We are doing good...the guests are staying for a night or two,' he said, adding the frequent closure of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in view of landslides sometimes adds to the pressure.
There is also a heavy rush of customers from the Valley to telecom service providers to convert their prepaid mobile SIM cards to postpaid.
Shoukat Ahmad Wani, a contractor from Srinagar, said he visited the town on Friday and utilized the internet service to upload tenders besides converting the prepaid mobile SIM card to postpaid.
'The government has set up internet touch points at different places but these are inadequate to cater to the heavy rush,' he said, requesting for restoration of the internet and prepaid mobile service in Kashmir.
Farooq Ahmad Bhat, another Srinagar resident, accused the hoteliers of 'overcharging'.
'I used to pay Rs 700 to Rs 1,000 for a room depending on the facilities but this time they are charging between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 for different categories of rooms,' he said.
A police official said they have stepped up patrolling and are keeping a close vigil in the town to maintain peace.