Patchy internet connection at the Book Fair is leaving too many who want to make payments using digital wallets or debit and credit cards in the lurch.
According to several fair visitors as well as a section of publishers, popular wallets and e-payment methods are not working simply because they need a working internet connection, something that is almost unavailable at the fair.
Salt Lake resident Roshni Choudhury said that she faced this problem at multiple stalls across the fair and had to return home without her favourite books in her bag simply because she had run out of cash and wanted to pay through digital modes.
She said she visited the fair on Wednesday when the fair logged more than 70,000 visitors and wanted to get a copy of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner when she realised that she had no cash left.
“I stood in a queue at the stall’s cash counter clutching the book. However when my turn came I tried to pay using a popular e-wallet but my phone did not have an internet connection. I rummaged through my purse only to realise that I had run out of cash and had to return the book,” said Choudhury.
Debjani Chatterjee of Purbachal Cluster IX had escaped a similar fate when she wanted to pay for books using her debit card.
“At both Dey’s and Chuckervertty Chatterjee, the men at the counter said there were no link to the POS machine. I had run out of cash. Thankfully my daughter was carrying some and could bail me out,” said Chatterjee.
The Telegraph Salt Lake on Wednesday took a round of the book fair and found that there was nearly no internet connection across Central Park.
Several stall owners and those manning the stalls of bigger publications said that they were a harried lot. Raju Chakraborty of Treks and Tours publications said that they were being forced to turn away many people who wanted to pay using digital methods due to this issue.
“The internet is not working here at the fairground. We are handing customers our book catalogue and asking them to order online and get their books delivered at home,” Chakraborty said.
One of the men manning the counter at Rupa & Co too said that they were being bogged down by payment issues due to an unstable internet line.
“At a time when people are widely using cards and digital modes of payment we are not being able to receive them simply because the Internet connection here across all operators is extremely patchy. The organisers should have given it a proper thought,” said the man who did not wish to be named.
An official of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild said that the sheer number of people congregating at the fair meant that most operators’ cellphone towers were overworked and were not functioning optimally.
Apart from this, a jammer too has been installed at the fair for security reasons.
According to sources, the placement of the towers and the router of the service providers in most cases decided the quality of service. Since the Jio router was at the back of the fair, towards Banabitan, Jio phones worked well inside the fair. BSNL, Vodafone Idea and Airtel towers were placed outside the fair on the main road, so people coming out of the fair were better served by these networks though they might have failed inside. The Jio lines found it hard to connect here, putting those trying to book app cabs in trouble.”
“Sixty per cent of our sales now involves digital payment. So most big publishers had used more than one service provider or used a separate broadband line. So they did not have much of a problem. But we have heard of issues from those using wifi routers or mobile phones as hotspots for their internet connection,” said guild secretary Tridib Chatterjee, who runs Patra Bharati.
Sudipta Dey of Dey’s Publishing said he faced problems for a period of 15-20 minutes when lines had crashed due to enormous crowd around 8pm on Saturday and again around 7pm on Sunday. “You cannot help such technological failures if there are too many people trying to make payments at the same time,” he said.
The lockdown, he pointed out, had made people acquainted with and comfortable with digital payment. “Even two years ago, we did not think of having PayTM or GooglePay at our book fair stalls.”
Cash at hand
Another official suggested making use of the ATM counters at the fair to withdraw cash in case there was an issue with digital payment at the stalls. “We have two State Bank of India (SBI) ATMs at the fair, one near the Guild office and another near the food court.
Chatterjee pointed out that two mobile ATMs were being used for the first time at the fair. “These are SBI vehicles loaded with cash and dispensing systems that are staying parked between gates 1 and 2 and another between gates 8 and 9,” he said.
Additional reporting by Sudeshna Banerjee