Srinagar: Even as the ongoing agitation has entered fifth consecutive month -affecting normal life – a business sector that could have continued operations was the Information Technology (IT) industry. But ban on the internet services, left this field as a biggest sufferer with business players pegging the aggregate loss to whopping Rs 200 crores.
Not only this, the internet ban is feared to have made the state lose its share of development under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s prestigious flagship, the Digital India program.
Market pundits said in the previous fiscal the IT industry and the IT Enabled Services (ITES) in Jammu and Kashmir made a turnover of Rs 307 crores. In Kashmir, the ITES, like business process outsourcing, digitization of records and data feeding, have major share of revenue in the IT sector. There are around 120 ITES firms, whereas the number of units dealing with “direct IT sector like software development” is 50.
While the work on various projects was going on smoothly, things took an ugly turn on the evening of July 8, when militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his two colleagues were killed.
Within hours, amid widespread protests, the government snapped the internet facilities to lakhs of internet subscribers dependent on mobile communication networks. Since then, only the BSNL owned broadband internet serve, but to a meager 16,000 subscribers.
People associated with the IT industry said since the day of internet gag their business has come to a grinding halt as the back bone of their operations, the internet, is off. The Information and Communication Technology Association of Jammu and Kashmir(ICTAJK), a consortium of IT and ITES firms in the state said the internet ban left around 20,000 persons jobless.
“Our operations depend solely on internet. Once internet is dead, business is dead,” said Meraj Gulzar, who heads the MIPS Technologies, which was executing various ITES projects including digitization of records.
Gulzar, a computer engineer by qualification with specialization in “high-end routing” said the “basic architecture of IT industry is based on the principal that you can operate from anywhere.” “For a place like Kashmir, which is vulnerable to siege and strikes, we had made our operational network so flexible that in case of abnormal situations, our workforce would operate from homes and this way we would meet out targets,” Gulzar, who is also the former chairman of the ICTAJK, told Kashmir Observer.
He, however, said the chronic ban on internet has left the industry doomed. “Our operations rely on mobile internet because not all are blessed with broadband whereas its services are not compatible with our work,” he said.
Another techie, Jahangir Raina, who heads the I-Locus, a globally known IT company said ban on internet had cascading affect on multiple business sectors.
“IT industry itself did not experience a direct impact as a result of ban since these companies use private leased lines. However it is the IT enabled services like e-commerce and citizen centric e-governance services of various Government departments, which got affected the most,” he said.
“Apart from IT enabled services there are services that require live internet provisioning such as Ujala LED bulb distribution. This scheme is in shambles in Kashmir valley and the absence of mobile internet has resulted in black marketing and corruption.”
The techies said if the government has issues with the “activity on social media let some sites be blocked.” “But why ban internet on the whole because internet use is not only about the social networking,” the techies said.
A senior official in the IT department while acknowledging the problems faced by Valley’s IT industry said their business prospects could get worsened further. “Given the internet ban our chances of getting due funding under Digital India, which is the first-ever billion dollar project, are fading with each passing day. Kashmir’s IT sector may not get even a penny,” the official said.
The government is reluctant to restore internet in the restive Valley citing security reasons. A senior police official said the solution to this problem lies if the chief Minister who is also the Home Minister calls a security meeting wherein people associated with the IT sector are called and they share their suggestions. “Otherwise there are no chances of restoration of internet,” he said.