Incessant rains since Thursday night have collapsed the communication network in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district that borders Nepal. And at this difficult time, when anxious locals wanted to connect with their relatives, none other than their ‘trusted’ mobile network from neighbouring Nepal came to their rescue.
At least 18 people have been killed and several others were missing as torrential rains and landslides hit Pithoragarh and Chamoli districts since Thursday night.
Ramesh Martoliya of Dharchula is one of the locals who have been using Nepalese SIM cards for long as it has ‘strong’ coverage in the Indian side. Dharchual is represented in the state assembly by chief minister Harish Rawat.
Using Nepalese SIM cards costs the locals up to Rs12 per minute to stay connected with friends within India. This is almost 30 times higher than the call rates offered by domestic players.
But the people in border areas have little choice. As there are less or no mobile towers in Indian side, they are dependent on Nepalese service providers. SIM cards of Nepalese telecom providers — Namaste, Sky and Nepal Telecom — are available in the shops after crossing the bridge connecting India and Nepal at Jhoolaghat.
“These cards can be taken by anyone for very little documentation,” said a source. Moreover flexi recharge is available in Dharchula and small hamlets on the Indian side.
Uttarakhand shares 80.5-km--long border with Nepal and 344-km- long border with China.
Uttarakhand chief secretary Shatrughan Singh admitted that the mobile connectivity is weaker in border areas and people are using international SIM cards. He told HT that he has given state’s representation to the officials of telecom ministry to strengthen network there.
Union telecom secretary JS Deepak, who was in Dehradun, told HT that due to security reasons mobile towers are not erected in 10 kms area close to border.
“Except for some parts of Jammu & Kashmir, the norm of 10 kms area has been relaxed. We are hopeful that people living close to borders will soon get better connectivity,” he said.
The official said the people living other side of the border are also dependent on Indian signals. For instance, some parts of Nepal and Pakistan get better Indian signals. Similarly, the mobile signals from Karachi are intercepted in the bordering areas of India.