Bureaucratic bungling gave mobile phone users in Jammu and Kashmir a harrowing time on Friday. Those with post-paid phones learnt they would not be able to send SMSes at all and consumers using pre-paid phones found they could send only 10 such messages a day.
The Centre's Department of Telecommunications (DoT) cited security reasons and ordered all 12 mobile phone service providers – private and public – to enforce the ban from midnight on Friday.
News of the ban was flashed on television channels from the afternoon, much to everyone's consternation, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's. As soon as the CM saw the TV flashes, he took up the matter with the DoT and Union Home Ministry. By the evening, the home ministry informed Abdullah that the order had been "kept in abeyance".
"It was high drama and I am glad we were able to address the issue in a timely manner," Abdullah told HT.
What sparked the flip-flop by the DoT was a scheme provided by the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The scheme enables post-paid subscribers to send any number of SMSes for a monthly fee of Rs 725. This scheme is apparently used by mischief makers during times of tension and crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. The state administration (then under Governor's Rule) had taken up the matter with the Dot and Union Home Ministry in 2008 – during the Amarnath land row -- asking them to find a way to check misuse of the scheme.
"This scheme was being used for rumour mongering by some agencies rather than disseminating news. Genuine news agencies and services were not using this scheme," Abdullah said.
So, rather than order BSNL to withdraw the scheme, the DoT imposed a blanket ban on SMS facilities provided by all service providers to post-paid mobile phone users in the state and impose a limit on pre-paid phone users.
That's when the chief minister entered the picture.