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For e-payments villagers in Uttarakhand depend on Nepalese mobile towers


Villagers living in remote areas of Uttarakhand bordering Nepal are so fed up with poor mobile connectivity in their areas that they landed in Delhi last week to protest against alleged discrimination by the Department of Telecommunications. They camped at Jantar Mantar in the Capital on an indefinite sit-in protest for a week before politicians and social activists from the state convinced them to end their stir and assured to take their fight to higher ups in Delhi. 

Through their dharna, they tried to contest the claims of Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding success of his demonetization drive and people adopting electronic modes of payments. The residents of around a dozen towns and over a hundred villages sharing border with Nepal have been demanding proper, reliable and efficient telecom network in the region, but now the story has taken a peculiar turn as post-demonetization these people have been left in lurch as there is no money in banks and ATMs are not working due to poor connectivity. Moreover, irregular and unreliable mobile networks have become a major stumbling block in their efforts to join various modes of e-payments.

These people from towns like Dharchula, Munshiyari, Bangapani, Tejam and some villages of Tanakpur area rely on mobile networks of neighbouring countries to communicate and forced to pay international calling rates to stay in touch. With local and state telecom and government officials not listening to their grievances, they wrote several letters to topmost functionaries in the government including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha and his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad which also remained unanswered.

Flashing SIM cards of Nepalese mobile companies which are being used by people living in and around Dharchula and Munshiyari, former Congress MLA Harish Dhami, who also joined the stir, said people are ready to embrace digital payments, but without mobile connectivity people of border areas are suffering as they do not have money to spend.

""The connectivity in the area is a poor 30 per cent and I want it should be 100 per cent. Why should people suffer due to incompetence and neglect of the Centre? People in my area are forced to pay international roaming rates to use mobile phones as they have no domestic telecom network and depend on mobile towers of neighbouring country. All claims of Mr. Modi about e-payments and 'Digital India' are nothing but a big sham. It is not just about cashless transactions, the entire issue poses big question mark on our national security,"" said Mr. Dhami, who heads Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation, 

Showing two SIM cards of Nepalese operators which he uses, Pritam Singh, a resident of Tejam that border Nepal, said while the government talks of telecom revolution and robust mobile networks, the fact is lakhs of people living in border areas have to depend mostly on mobile networks of Nepal Telecom. ""We live in strategically located areas adjoining Nepal where nation's security comes first, but government cares least for us. Till now we were somehow managing things, but post demonetization drive, life has become difficult for us,"" he adds.   

(Sandeep Joshi is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of Uttarakhand Panorama, a digital platform dedicated to the news from Uttarakhand) "

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