Businesses and public sector services across Gujarat were badly hit as the ban on Internet services — especially 2G, 3G and mobile communication — remained suspended for the third day in a row. The ban is likely to be effective until Saturday in some volatile areas.
According to mobile Internet users data, operators said over 98 lakh Internet users were in the state as per last year records. Banking, trading, travel, manufacturing and other services that depend on Internet connectivity bore were affected due to the ban. Only broadband services have been working effectively. Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel stated in the assembly on Friday that the government had imposed a ban on mobile Internet services “to contain rumour mongering”.
Private service providers, like fuel stations, hotels, restaurants and all other sectors where the mode of transaction is dominated by credit or debit cards over cash, has been affected by the suspension of data services. The Public distribution System (PDS) has also been badly hit. The government announced in its release Thursday that it had decided to make online PDS manual. Calls to G S Malik, state secretary for home affairs, went unanswered. Asked why were the data services suspended and when would they be restored, Dhananjay Dwivedi, secretary science and technology department, said that the decision was not taken by the state government but by local administration and police.
Officials from apex industry bodies across the state have raised concerns on the suspension. “With 56% phones in Gujarat being smartphones, the irregular Internet availability is making most of Gujarat suffer. This breakdown of Internet services shows that there is a lack of understanding of the ‘Gujarat model’. With global economy experiencing volatility, businesses are cut off from communication and it is especially tough for SMEs and start-ups. It is going to be tough to explain to foreign investors and firms operating in the state when they will want to know from the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI) on how they can operate for a week without Internet,” said Bhagyesh Soneji, chairperson, ASSOCHAM Gujarat Council, and chairperson of Foreign Trade Council at GCCI.
Many questioned the duration on the restriction of mobile Internet services which is crippling the ‘industry-friendly’ image of the state. Rajiv Vastupal, chairman, FICCI-Gujarat state council, said, “Many bank officials told me that they were having issues with Real Time Gross Settlement as they were getting delayed. The government should immediately lift the ban as the validity of business communication comes down.”
In Ahmedabad, data services have been blocked since the night of August 25. The city’s residents may have to wait till Saturday night or Sunday morning for the services to be restored. This will follow the “joint decision” taken by the local administration and the city police. “Though the situation is improving very fast, the administration and police department have decided to keep the data services suspended till Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The decision to restore these would be considered after analysing the situation,” said Ahmedabad Collector Rajkumar Beniwal.
Breakdown of transport services, owing to the suspension of AMTS and BRTS till Wednesday, further added to the woes of entrepreneurs.
The lack of mobile Internet has affected the sales of many businesses that operate through mobile Internet. “My sales has gone down by 25 to 30% as a lot of orders come via Whatsapp and Facebook. I have not been able to source raw materials for my new orders and I won’t be able to take on more orders this time because of the delay,” said Megha Tank, who runs a bakery in Ahmedabad.
The last three days have caused Vadodara losses worth lakhs of rupees since communication with clients and customers have been stalled. Parth Shah, a finance consultant, said, “With the August 31 deadline for income tax approaching, communicating with clients has been completely disrupted.”
Out of the 3.5 lakh users, as per TRAI figures from Vadodara, over a lakh users are businesses. Joint secretary of Vadodara Chamber of Commerce and Industries (VCCI), Himanshu Patel, said the industry had decided to take up the matter with the state government. “Today, many small business receive their orders through email. In turn, it is going to affect the state revenue,” he said.
Vadodara District Collector Avantika Singh Aulakh said the notification, jointly with the city police, directed a complete shutdown of signals for Internet transmissions, including 2G and 3G wireless services, for the first 24 hours and an additional extension until 6 am on Friday.
Singh further added, “We have already informed the operators to restore the Internet services in Vadodara city. However, we have been informed by the operators that they are complying with a central order (state home department) effecting a ban.”
An official from a private 3G Internet service provider said, “We have incurred losses up to Rs 25 lakh per day in Vadodara alone.”
The diamond and textile industry have suffered a slowdown in the business as the Internet services and SMSes were restricted for two days. The Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association president Manoj Agrawal said, “In textile trading business, most business communication happen on WhatsApp.” Surat Diamond Association president Dinesh Navadia said, “Traders and brokers use Internet to send the photos of diamonds to other parties. We wish such services are started at the earliest.”
In Saurashtra, travel agents were hit the hardest even as banks, government departments and postal services were affected partially. “I didn’t get any business at all on Wednesday and Thursday,” Kaushik Tank, owner of Akshar Holidays in Rajkot, said. Rajkot Collector Manisha Chandra said, “The state home secretary is going to hold a meeting to review the situation in the state. We have been asked to wait till 8 pm (Friday) to take a call on resuming of mobile Internet services.”