Internet blockade shuts down e-Governance in Kashmir

The Internet shutdown in Kashmir since August 5 has not only devastated the private sector, but also taken a heavy toll on various government services and departments.

From the ambitious Electronic Public Distribution System (e-PDS) to filing application forms for driving licences and filing of Income Tax Returns – every aspect of day-to-day government functioning has been badly affected by the four-month long Internet gag.

Implemented with much fanfare in 2018, the e-PDS project of the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department is witnessing hurdles due to the Internet shutdown.

As per officials, the Point of Sale (PoS) devices used in the e-PDS for maintaining digital records of food grain distribution are completely Internet based. “Internet shutdown has been making it impossible to operate this system,” said an official wishing not to be named. He said around 3600 PoS machines installed at ration depots and fair price shops across the Valley for catering to almost 14.50 lakh beneficiaries have been rendered dysfunctional due to internet shutdown.

“With no internet, the officials have to take details of food grain distribution manually. This is quite tedious and leaves room for error as huge data is piled up for months,” said the official.

The internet ban is also a hurdle for more than 70,000 government employees in Kashmir who are not able to submit Income Tax Returns. Income Tax officials said they have not received any communication from Central Board of Direct Taxes over extension of ITR date which was earlier extended till November 30 in view of the internet gag.

The e-tendering process has also taken a hit as contractors find it difficult to get access to internet which has a direct impact on developmental works.

After more than two months, Labour Department recently resumed the Contributory Provident fund (CP Fund) service to account holders from its Jammu facility. While thousands of employees who achieved superannuation recently and were awaiting for the final CP Fund withdrawal heaved a sigh of relief, the fund holders, however, say processing of their cases “only from Jammu is proving to be a tedious task.”

“Our withdrawal request has to go to Jammu which takes a lot of time,” said Muhammad Amin, a retired government employee.

Th registrations and renewals of the Labour department which is frequented by several employees and businessmen have also come to a standstill.

“Establishments and organisations which ought to register themselves with the Labour Department have been unable to do so for a long time due to non-functioning of the internet,” said a trader.

Internet services on all platforms are blocked across Kashmir since August 5 when Central Government abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the erstwhile State into two union territories.

Internet blockade has also made 1200 Khidmat Centres defunct, with their financial and utility-based services shut. Khidmat Centres established by Jammu and Kashmir Bank under Service Centre Agency ( SCA) was envisaged in the national e-governance programme but has not been able to meet its purpose due to internet ban, say Khidmat Centre owners.

“In absence of internet, we are unable to deliver any of the ‘government to customer’ services for which we were roped in. Our business operations are dependent on internet connectivity. We urge the authorities to restore internet so that our operations can start again,” said Tehseen Hussain, president, Jammu and Kashmir Khidmat Centre Association.

The transport department has also been hit by the internet ban as people are unable to apply for online driving licences. Besides, transporters say that due to the internet ban they couldn’t submit the fee of formalities like vehicle fitness and insurance during last few months. The aggrieved transporters said they are now forced to pay hefty late fee for no fault of theirs.

“In absence of internet we are compelled to submit vehicle fee like insurance, token, licence fee from outside Kashmir through online mode which every transporter cannot afford. There was no internet even in RTO’s office till a month back and we were instructed to submit online fee at the Old Secretariat. However, most of times we returned disappointed due to one or the other technical glitch there,” said Farooq Ahmad, a transporter.

A doctor at a Srinagar hospital, who also teaches at the attached medical college, says doctors rely on the internet to consult colleagues. He says medicos also share records with other doctors online, particularly while seeking a second opinion which has been hit by the internet gag.

Patient data remains largely undigitized in Kashmir hospitals due to internet shutdown, says the doctor. “Doctors need to use the internet to update themselves and learn about new drugs, diagnostic tools, etc. Without access to internet, the quality of patient care is affected. We are also not able to communicate with colleagues in other cities and countries. We need to know and confirm drug dosages, and many of these activities require access to the internet,” says the doctor.