Illegal PCOs in Jammu and Kashmir charge up to Rs 50/minute for a call

SRINAGAR: Zahoor Ahmad Mir of Tangmarg traveled 38 km to a friend's office in Srinagar last Friday to call his son, who works for a private power company in. This was after a merchant in Pattan cited charges for calls of Rs 50 per minute for using his landline. The desperation of a valley separated from the rest of the world for 51 days, and counting, has given rise to a business opportunity for many with functional fixed lines and the inclination to earn quick money.

“I decided to travel to my friend's office to call my son Sohiab instead of succumbing to the demands of an unscrupulous merchant. I was surprised to know that there are many like him taking advantage of the situation, ”Zahoor told TOI.

While not all “opportunistic” landline owners are charging people at Rs 50 a minute for a call, makeshift PCOs are mushrooming in street-corner shops across Srinagar as the communication lockdo- wn approaches two months.

For every Zahoor that refuses to be taken advantage of, there are many others who silently pay ISD fees to make STD or local calls from these illegal booths. A few days ago, Ghulam Hassan Dar, a resident of the village of Palhallan in Baramulla, paid 30 rupees for a call to his son Mukhtar, a businessman in Bangalore.

My wife and I hadn't talked to him once in several weeks. We were so desperate to know if it was okay that I thought it was a small price to pay just to hear his voice, ”he said Tuesday.

Syed Afzal of Rainawari in Srinagar rides his scooter to Lal Chowk every few days to call his daughter Shabana and his three granddaughters, who live in Delhi, from a friend’s office.

While the approximately 3,000 PCOs that once were the lifeline for most people have closed their doors for a long time, many in the Valley do not seem to have a problem with their illegal resurgence until mobile connectivity is restored.