With Another Strike, Terrorists Cripple Valley's BSNL Network

1 June 2015
Times of India
M Saleem Pandit

Srinagar: With terrorists blasting a BSNL mobile tower in Habbakadal in the heart of Srinagar on Monday, five of government-owned telecom company's franchisees shut down their SIM recharge facilities across the Valley. Already, Airtel, Vodafone, and Aircel have curtailed their services following Lashkar-e-Islam's threats and attacks on towers, as a result of which more than 50% of the Valley area is now off network. The networks have totally collapsed in North Kashmir where residents who had installed towers at their houses have shut down operations fearing attacks from militants. With the shutdown of BSNL franchise outlets in all the districts, the sub-franchises and retailers automatically wound up their businesses. On Monday, not a single pre-paid BSNL subscriber across the state was able to recharge his cell phone. 'There are five BSNL franchises across Kashmir and every franchise has been doing business in two districts each,' said a BSNL franchisee. 'We called a meeting and decided to close our outlets from Monday morning. All outlets in Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam, Anantnag, Baramulla, Bandipora, Kupwara are completely shut now. We're scared after attacks in North Kashmir and re-surfacing of threatening posters,' the franchisee said on condition of anonymity. Another franchisee revealed the firm has asked them to close outlets if they are scared. 'We don't want to take any chances. We have small children and don't want to fall prey to unknown gunmen,' he said. 'Every franchise generated business up to Rs 2 lakh per day and the closure of outlets means a huge loss to the firms and the associated people with it,' said a BSNL official. Panic gripped Habbakadal when militants lobbed a grenade at a BSNL tower there, which missed the target, but left one person injured. This was the first incident of its kind in Srinagar after attacks in Sopore and Handwara. Police claimed to have arrested three people allegedly involved in putting up 'threatening posters' in Khrew area of Pulwama in South Kashmir. Avantipora SSP Muhammad Irshad said the arrested have militant links and identified them as Imtiyaz Ahmad Sheikh, son of Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Mudasir Ahmad Lone, son of Abdul Samad Lone, and Ishfaq Ahmad Bhat. Meanwhile, intelligence sources told TOI that police seizure of an ISI-supplied radio communication gadget installed at a telecom tower in Sopore in April this year led to frustrated militants into announcing complete ban on mobile services first in north Kashmir, and thereafter to other parts of the Valley. The ISI-supplied radio device, which cost over Rs 20 crore according to the police, was installed by militants on a mobile tower in Sopore. Sources said the police recovered an antenna and radio communication gadget used to boost radio communication of militants operating in Sopore. The radio helped the terrorists in keeping communication channels with their handlers in PoK.