In Twitter-Facebook age, J&K ban on SMS baffling

The short message service ban on prepaid mobile phones in Jammu and Kashmir seems ill-conceived.

Srinagar: The short message service (SMS) ban on prepaid mobile phones in Jammu and Kashmir seems ill-conceived since Twitter, Facebook and other smartphone facilities are freely available. A telecom firm executive said the ban was "irrelevant as a security exercise".

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) authorities say the ban has been imposed by the state government and not the union government.

SMS facility on post paid mobile phones is available across the state, but with a rider -- you cannot send more than 100 SMS messages from your mobile phone in a day.

The SMS facility on prepaid phones was withdrawn in 2008 during the Amarnath land row agitation after the authorities said such a facility on prepaid phones, most of which had been provided to consumers by the service providers without any proper verification, was being used by anti-social elements.

"SMS facilities were being used by anti-social elements for spreading rumours during the Amarnath land row agitation of 2008. It had become difficult to trace the miscreants because investigations revealed that most of the misused mobile phones had been sold to customers without any proper verifications," said a senior intelligence officer here.

A petition filed before the state human rights commission had challenged the ban earlier this year, holding that since the situation had changed in Jammu and Kashmir since 2008 and as the Smartphone facilities allowed free dissemination of information through Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other such facilities the ban on SMS facility on prepaid phones had lost its relevance.

The petition before the state human rights commission had said: "A smartphone service like WhatsApp allows exchange of messages using only the internet data plan. It does not matter whether you have a prepaid or postpaid phone connection."

"It also allows the creation of groups, unlimited messages, audio and video messages. In the wake of such a strong and powerful service being available freely to Jammu and Kashmir residents, it is beyond any sensible reason to ban the affordable SMS service on prepaid phones," the petition added.

"Last year, Union Minister Sachin Pilot during a visit to Jammu and Kashmir had also said that people needed and deserved this service."

After the various service providers came under strong criticism for issuing prepaid mobile phones without a foolproof verification process in the state, the service providers like BNSL, Airtel, Aircel, Idea, Vodafone and Reliance have put in place a strict verification process for issuance of SIM cards.

"After we have started strictly adhering to a foolproof verification process the misuse of any SIM card can be traced within minutes. The rationale behind continuing the ban on the SMS facility in the state is not only technically irrelevant as a security exercise, it also puts our subscribers to unnecessary hardship besides affecting our revenues," said a BSNL executive here.


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