SMS Ban Hits Several Sectors

Representational Pic

SRINAGAR - From not receiving OTPs for online transactions to difficulties faced by students in submitting online forms, the suspension of short message service (SMS) in Kashmir for over four months has caused inconvenience to people and affected services of several sectors, including education.

Bank customers have been badly hit by the suspension of SMS facility as now they do not get to know the details of their accounts and transactions.

"We used to get details like balance, statement, credit or debit details through the SMSes, but since four months, we have not been receiving them. This has caused a lot of inconvenience as we depended on these services," Owais Ahmad, a resident of Ganderbal said.

He said the underprivileged people have been the worst affected as they used to get details of transfers of direct benefits of various government schemes through the messaging service.

People also cannot complete online transactions without one-time passwords (OTPs). Several banks do not send OTPs through email, and SMS is the only way to get the high-security password on the customer's registered number.

"Firstly, if we have to do an online transaction we either have to contact our friends and relatives outside Kashmir or go to a government centre as the Internet is also barred here. We do not get OTP on email and a majority of the customers also cannot access their emails. This is frustrating," one Shabir Ahmad, said.

He said that besides this, the customers cannot even do make transactions through Paytm or using other interfaces like BHIM or UPI payments.

"We have money in our Paytm and other accounts, but we cannot use it without an OTP. Why are they even stopping a simple OTP. What is the logic? At least, the OTP services should be restored," Ahmad said.

The ban on the service has caused great deal of inconvenience to the people and badly affected the functioning of several sectors.

"We cannot do anything without physically visiting a bank which is usually unheard of in this age. What Digital India are you talking about? There has been no SMS facility or Internet service for over four months here now," he added.

In view of such problems, several customers are finding it difficult to do transactions or even send money to their relatives, especially students studying outside the valley.

"My brother, who is studying in Bengaluru, needs money every month and I used to transfer it to him. However, since the Internet and SMS services were suspended, we have been facing problems. I have to go to a bank branch to deposit and transfer money which is cumbersome," Basharat Mir, a resident of the Civil Lines area of the city here said.

Not only the banking sector, the non-availability of the service means that no new Aadhar cards are being created, people are having problems in filing income-tax and GST returns, facing problems in regional transport office (RTO) services and many other sectors, including tourism.

Students have been facing several issues when it comes to submitting online forms for admissions or examinations as OTPs are required to avail such services.

"The candidates applying for the examinations like GATE, NEET or others cannot submit the online forms as they cannot receive OTPs which is a must," Iqra Nabi, a student, said.

The school have also not been able to send important information or notifications through the bulk messaging services to the students.

To cope with the non-availability of these services, the people in the valley have come up with several novel ways.

Imtiyaz Ahmad, a resident of the city here, sent his SIM card to a relative outside the valley in order to receive an OTP to be able to submit a form online for availing RTO services.

"I had to send my SIM card to Jammu where the services work. My relative then readout the OTP over phone and I was able to complete my work," he said.

Several students also either go out of the valley or register the phone numbers of their relatives who are outside Kashmir to be able to submit forms.

"I had to give the phone number of my relative who is in Kolkata for being able to receive the OTP. My friend had to go to Jammu to submit the form," Afreen, a student, said.

Several bank customers have also taken this course of action, but they have apprehensions about the safety of their accounts.

The SMS facility was barred in the entire valley as mobile telephone service was suspended on the night of August 4, hours before the Centre announced its decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

The postpaid mobile services were restored on October 14 and the messaging services were also restored but only for few hours as the SMSes were once again barred later that day.

The officials said the SMS was barred to stop rumour- mongering in the valley.

"These services can be misused by the anti-national and anti-social elements. There are apprehensions that they can be misused to incite violence which we will not allow," a senior police official said.

He said the ban on the SMS and internet services is subjected to regular reviews and a decision to restore them would be taken at an appropriate time.

However, he gave no time-frame for the restoration of the services.

Banking SMSes restored

The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Tuesday allowed service providers to start SMS service messages in the Valley so people, particularly business-persons, can receive messages from various banks, officials said.

Mobile subscribers in the Kashmir Valley will now be able to receive SMS messages generated from machines, the officials said.

SMS services were stopped as a "precautionary measure" on October 14, a few hours after postpaid mobile phone connections were restored in the Valley. Mobile connections were suspended on August 5 after the Centre abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two union territories.

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