Govt unconcerned over telecom breakdown as 3,000 sites become non-functional in Kashmir
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: Even as over 3,000 Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs), installed over 1200 to 1400 mobile signal towers, of different telecommunication companies have become non-functional in Kashmir valley due to the sustained threats and attacks by a Militant group ‘Lashkar-e-Islam’ in the last one week, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir seems to be completely unconcerned.
The latest grenade attack occurred on a tower at Gadoodbagh, in Habbakadal area of downtown Srinagar on Monday. There was not much of material damage to the steel-fabricated tower but a parked vehicle got hit and one person sustained injuries. The first in the summer capital, Monday’s grenade attack sent shivers down the spine of thousands of the people associated with the mobile telephony operations in the Valley. Official sources admitted that more than 200 BTSs went out of service in the capital in just three hours after the blast.
Only once, in response to a reporter’s question, did Chief Minister make a brief comment, reassuring that the government would not let the peace derail. On two occasions, Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, came out with their brief statements, claiming that the militants of Hizbul Mujahideen were involved in circulating threats and attacking the civilians who were defying the diktat of “shutting down all Laaptu recharge outlets and mobile towers in entire Kashmir within one day”.
According to Police, the first incident of a grenade attack on a tower at Kralteng in Sopore has been solved with the arrest of two persons. Besides, three persons have been detained for allegedly downloading, circulating and pasting the threat posters of ‘Lashkar-e-Islam’ in Khrew area of Pampore. SSP Awantipore, Mohammad Irshad, said on Monday that their motive was “extortion” and none of them was associated with any militant group. They have been booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The State and the Central government’s near-total silence has buttressed speculations and provided a tool to the rank separatists to attribute the offensive to the conspiracy theory. Over 70 per cent people in media and social media have found it easier to allege that it was all “a handiwork of the government-sponsored counter-insurgents”. Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s suggestion—that India would use terrorists to neutralise the terrorists—came handy to the people who have been holding “India” responsible for everything bad in Kashmir.
“Unfortunately, nobody in the political establishment has even condemned these attacks and killings, let alone contesting the separatists and the Pakistan-sponsored militants and their support structure in the Valley. Even those familiar for protests and statements have been completely mute to the offensive. While the PDP leaders, who protested suspension of SMS and Internet services during Omar Abdullah’s rule, have been conveniently silent, Omar himself had avoided being committal on it on Twitter. Most surprising in BJP’s complete silence. Had it happened during UPA regime, Ravi Shankar Prasad (Union Telecommunication Minister) would have raised a mayhem”, said a senior Police official, insisting to remain anonymous.
Another middle-ranking officer disclosed that there was “absolutely no pressure” on the Police to offset the ‘Lashkar-e-Islam’ offensive. “Nobody in Police dares to touch, detain or question a suspect during the Mufti government. Arrest of suspects and booking them under PSA has been fully abandoned. Officials are more cautious after the Narbal incident (when some Police officials were arrested and booked for murder before an inquiry into the death of a civilian in the Police firing). Obviously, the other side will reap its benefits. So you can say, whatever the number of the militants and their overground supporters, they are enjoying a field day”, said the officer.
Highly placed sources in the Police Headquarters, however, insisted that the Police would restore operation on all the non-functional towers “within three days” with the deployment of armed guards. “We will relocate and set up some of the towers at protected premises”, said a source. He insisted that “Lashkar-e-Islam” was the front name of a Sopore-based group of six Hizbul Mujahideen militants.
Telecom officials told STATE TIMES that they had left the option of closing down or continuing the operations to the landlords and recharge vendors. “We tell them to run it or shut it down as per their own judgment”, said an official.
According to the Telecom sources, currently there were around 9,000 BTSs in the Valley. As two or three companies share a tower and install their BTSs on a tower, the number of the BTSs of BSNL, Airtel, Aircel, Vodafone, Reliance and Idea Cellular closed down in Kashmir in the last seven days was estimated to be over 3,000. A well-placed authoritative source said that out of Vodafone’s 1400 BTSs in J&K, around 800 were in the Valley. As many as 300 sites have been shut down. The last to be taken off the air, was in the capital’s flood-ravaged posh neighbourhood of Rajbagh. “We have reports that voice and data services, including Internet, have stopped on 300 sites of BSNL, 300 of Vodafone, 500 of Aircel and 800 of Airtel. A large number of towers were closed today in Srinagar and South Kashmir’s Shopian township”, he said.
As two persons have been killed and six more left injured in seven attacks since May 23, authorities were reportedly thinking on providing guard to the Mobile Switching Control (MSC) facility of different companies in Srinagar. While as Vodafone’s, Reliance’s and Idea’s MSCs are already in Jammu, Airtel (Highland Automobiles and Gee Enn Bakery M.A. Road), Aircel (Grand Mumtaz and Barzullah) and BSNL (M.A. Road and Barzullah) are operating in Srinagar and Jammu.