From February 22, millions of pre-paid cellular users in Jammu and Kashmir and the seven North Eastern states may no longer be able to use their mobile phone connections.This is because, the government is examining the possibility of banning pre-paid cellular services in these security sensitive areas.
At present, pre-paid services are allowed in these states, but the deadline expires next month. Telcos said that so far the government had given no indication that this deadline would be extended. An executive associated with an operator was of the view that while the Department of Telecom (DoT) is likely to extend the deadline in J&K, it may however impose a ban pre-paid services in the North Eastern states including Assam.
But, officials in the communication ministry say that the DoT cannot act independently on this issue. They also add that the final decision on extending the deadline rests with the home and defence ministries and also with security and intelligence agencies.
As of November end, there are about 10 million mobile users in the J&K and the seven North Eastern states combined. While the ratio of pre-paid to post paid connections in these states is not known, on a national level over 90% the country's 375 million mobile users are on the pre-paid platform. Besides, over 95% of the new subscribers who are added every month choose the pre-paid option.
The Cellular Operators Association of India, the body representing all GSM players has already taken up the issue with the Department of Telecom. "We had recently brought up this issue with the government and we understand that they are considering our request for an extension," COAI's director general TV Ramachandran told.
Currently, Indian citizens of other states who have a pre-paid connection are not allowed roaming facilities while visiting J&K and the seven North Eastern states. Media has learnt that the government has no plans to lift this restriction in the immediate future.
However, critics say that a mere ban on pre-paid mobile connections will not address security issues, especially considering that residents have access to other access to other technologies such as internet telephony, e-mail, chat services from several web portals such as Google and Yahoo! and even satellite phones.