As shops opened on Saturday evening, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah arrived in Lal Chowk. Left without cash after the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, Abdullah shopped on credit. “I did not have cash, so I told the shopkeepers I will pay later,” Abdullah said.
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The National Conference leader was able to shop on credit, unlike most people in the Valley. The ban on mobile Internet has compounded their problems — it has severely limited their ability to purchase items with debit and credit cards.
“I had no money for a medical test,” said Zubair Ahmad, an engineer. “After finding three ATMs out of service, I finally managed to withdraw Rs 2,000. But the test cost Rs 2,400. I wanted to pay by debit card but they refused, saying their POS (point of sale) machine was not working because of the Internet ban. My friends finally bailed me out.”
Internet services in the Valley have been suspended since July 8, when Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed and protests began. The government later restored landline broadband Internet connections, but there are less than 6,000 broadband subscribers in the Valley. The POS machines provided by banks — mostly J&K Bank and HDFC Bank — access mobile Internet through SIM cards. With mobile Internet down, the POS machines are defunct.
In Srinagar’s business hub of Lal Chowk and Residency Road, only one departmental store was accepting debit and credit cards. Only one in more than 100 petrol pumps in the Valley had access to broadband Internet.
While the absence of online transactions is a concern in the Valley’s urban areas, there are few shopkeepers with the POS facility in rural pockets. “While most people have debit cards, it is useless for people like me,” said Nazir Ahmad, resident of Tangmarg. “I need cash for basic needs — milk, vegetables, meat. I can’t even buy medicines now.”
The state government said the people’s concerns were genuine. “You have flagged an important issue. It is a genuine concern,” government spokesperson and Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar told The Indian Express. “I will apprise Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti about it,” he added.