Internet blockade turns online train time table obsolete

Train services suspended after heavy snowfall in Kashmir

In absence of internet connectivity in Kashmir Northern Railway has been unable to keep the commuters abreast about the train timings in the Valley.  The internet blockade has turned the online timetable of Kashmir train from Baramulla to Banihal obsolete.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had snapped the internet on all the platforms across Kashmir on August 5 a few hours before the Government of India announced its decision to abrogate the special status of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate it into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh.  

“With no internet access, train users are unable to check the daily train timings on the online National Train Information Enquiry System (NTIES). Hundreds of train users in Kashmir had downloaded the NTIES mobile application, which used to keep them updated with the local train timing. However, the internet shutdown is keeping people away from using this service,” a senior Railway official told Greater Kashmir.

The official said that prior to August 5 Northern Railways in Kashmir had created many WhatsApp groups to keep people updated about train timings.  “Ever since train service was resumed in Kashmir last month, our telephone helplines keep buzzing with calls from people to know about the train timings. Tech-savvy train commuters who earlier used to know train timings with just a click of a smart phone have to now wait for their calls to get through,” the official added.

He said business transactions of Railways, which used to be done online have to be processed manually in absence of the internet.

Mehraj-u-din Bhat, a student from Tangmarg had developed a train time mobile application, it  has become defunct due to the internet shutdown. Bhat’s mobile app used to be available at Google Playstore. “Be it students, employees or tourists, everyone used to avail the benefit of knowing train timings through my app. The mobile app had become very popular but now the internet shutdown has dampened my innovation,” said Bhat.

Apart from the timetable of all railways stations across Kashmir, the application developed by Bhat used to offer services such as train status enquiry, station helpline numbers, Railway Police helpline numbers and train journal. “I hope at least authorities restore broadband internet service so that my app is up and running soon. In an age of digital world we have been pushed into darkness by such as prolonged internet shutdown,” Bhat said.

Apart from affecting the internet-based timetable of the train service, the internet gag has also become a hurdle for various proposed endeavors of the Railways. “There was a proposal to start online booking of train tickets in Kashmir. However, this plan has been put on the backburner due to the internet shutdown. We hope the internet is restored soon so that all our plans in the pipeline get implemented,” said another Railway official.

As per the report “The Anatomy of an Internet Blackout:  Measuring the Economic Impact of internet shutdowns in India” Kashmir during last 7 years has seen highest number of internet shutdowns followed by Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat. While mobile networks have been shut down for longer than fixed line Internet but this time around both platforms of internet have been suspended in Kashmir.

Frequent suspension of internet services in the Valley by the authorities for last several years has caused a body-blow to Kashmir’s economy resulting in losses worth almost Rs 4000 crore during past six years between 2012 to 2017, says the study conducted by Delhi-based think-tank International Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). From three reported internet shutdowns in 2012, the number increased to 70 plus witnessed this year. This includes the ongoing internet gag which has completed four months.  The duration of shutdowns increased from a total of 9 hours in 2012 to more than 3000 hours during 2019.