Srinagar: After creating a network of 1300 Common Services Centres (CSCs) to deliver various services electronically to people of Kashmir, the officials overlooking the scheme say that the government is destroying the “much needed” network by ordering frequent internet blackouts.
The officials said that more than a thousand centres in Kashmir are left defunct when internet services are snapped. They said that for the past many years they had been creating the network and had set up centres even in far-flung areas of the Valley, but the internet bans have almost destroyed their purpose.
The CSC scheme, an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, government of India, was aimed to provide high-quality and cost-effective services to people in the areas of e-governance, education, health, telemedicine, entertainment, as well as some private services.
State project manager of the scheme, Asif Iqbal, told Kashmir Reader that on the one hand the government is asking people to go digital, and on the other hand it is making it “impossible” to do so.
“Except a minuscule percent that have broadband services, all other CSC centres in the Valley are disconnected once the internet is banned by the government. The helplessness during such internet bans creates an impression of non-reliability of online services and of the CSC centres themselves,” said Iqbal.
He said that the projects assigned to each centre come with deadlines. “But the frequent bans spoil the schedule every time. It stretches our work, and eats up more resources,” he said.
The CSCs were also meant to act as “change agents”, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods. More than a thousand entrepreneurs became part of this scheme in the past few years.
“We call the operators of these centres as Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs). They invest some amount in creating infrastructure, like computers, printers or bio-metrics. But when they have to face frequent internet bans, there are more chances of them shutting down these centres and go looking for other avenues, as we have already witnessed at some places,” he said.
Since the last more than one year, the government has been trying to engage people in online transactions. A village in Budgam district was declared as the first “cashless village” in the state. However, during the same period, the region has witnessed the longest internet shutdown, followed by several and frequent internet bans.
As per media reports, since 2014 the Indian government has suspended Internet services in the country for a total of about 250 days. More than 60% of this period has been in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
During the uprising that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8 last year, mobile internet was suspended in Kashmir for 133 straight days.
Ironically, Minister of State (independent charge) for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, visited Kashmir on April 21 and held a meeting on ‘Digital Modes of Payment –Promotion of cashless transactions’, but on the same day the government blocked internet services across Kashmir.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, had also convened a meeting with a team of Niti Aayog officials to discuss various matters regarding digital payments in Kashmir.