Prepaid phone ban revoked in Indian Kashmir

The Indian government on Thursday overturned an unpopular ban on prepaid mobile phones in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a move that had been aimed at preventing rebels from using them to clandestinely plan attacks.

All subscribers with prepaid phones will, however, be subject to new and rigorous identity and address checks, a press statement from the federal Department of Telecommunications said.

The government had banned prepaid mobile phones last November saying that rebels had been using fake documents to obtain the phone cards to evade detection and detonate bombs.

Communications have long been a sensitive subject in troubled Himalayan region, which is split between nuclear-rivals India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting for independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan since 1989. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the violence.

India once banned the Internet and international calls in its portion of Kashmir for a year after a string of attacks it blamed on militants supported by Pakistan. That ban was lifted in 2002. Cell phones were first allowed in the territory in 2003.

The telecommunication industry quickly filled the vacuum, with giant companies like Airtel Bharti, Tata Indicom and Vodafone as well as the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. opening more than 50,000 retail outlets across the region. Independent phone repair shops followed suit.

There are 3 million prepaid card subscriptions in the region, according to the Home Ministry. The cheaper cards are highly popular among young people who yearn to communicate with their peers — and also among their parents who have used them to keep tabs on children in the violence-wracked region.

Basheer Ahmed Dar, the chairman of the regional telephone owners association said he welcomed the decision to overturn the ban which “was a decision in haste and which rendered thousands jobless here.”

Prepaid cards generally cost 100 Indian rupees ($2) as opposed to long-term subscriptions, which cost 100 rupees per month in addition to call time charges. Subscription accounts also require a 500 rupee deposit.

Associated Press