Kashmir communication shutdown cripples IT companies and start-ups in Valley

IT companies located inside the Rangreth industrial complex on the outskirts of Srinagar have been hit hard by the shutdown which entered the 69th day on Wednesday, October 12

Kashmir communication shutdown cripples IT companies and start-ups in Valley
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Majid Maqbool

IT companies located inside the Rangreth industrial complex on the outskirts of Srinagar have been hit hard by the shutdown which entered the 69th day on Wednesday, October 12

The continued ban on all internet services including lease lines, connections to business establishments and IT companies in Rangreth complex has affected at least a thousand employees working there.

The industrial park, in addition to offices of several prominent IT companies and an incubation centre for new companies, also houses companies that provide high speed internet services to business establishments and other offices across the valley.

Some of these companies also provide different services to their clients in countries including US, UK, the Middle East and South Africa. Prominent companies that have offices in the complex include Aegis, LeLafe, iQuasar, STC, among other companies whose business with clients in outside states and overseas clients is entirely dependent on uninterrupted, round the clock internet connectivity.

“Our company regularly offers services to about 500 customers and clients outside the state and many of them are based overseas. Our core business of software and technical support to overseas companies was abruptly stopped after the authorities shut down the entire internet here,” said an operations head of a company, who wished not to be named.

Sitting in his office next to a workstation area with switched off computer terminals, he claimed about 70 percent of their business is down. The company has also lost contact with hundreds of their overseas clients due to the sudden internet shutdown.

“We had one Middle East project which was entirely dependent on the internet. Even one hour of internet shutdown was fatal for the project. The project has stopped completely now. We have lost major clients and we have suffered huge losses which we are unlikely to recover,” he rued.

In the initial week of the shutdown, the offices of many IT companies in Rangreth had handwritten notices pinned on their locked gates, asking their employees not to risk attending office in view of the shutdown and communications blockade.

One notice pasted on the entrance of an IT company office read: “Dear employees, the office has temporarily shifted to Delhi/NCR in view of the prevailing situation. Please don’t panic, we will resume our operations here the moment things get back to normal.” The campus of the National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology, which is a centrally run institute, also remains locked. There are no students inside the campus.

Another IT company official in Rangreth said the authorities stopped their internet connections without even informing the management of companies. He said the internet shutdown is unprecedented in more than a decade of the company’s operations in Rangreth.

“We were using internet services purely for business purposes. Our companies pay all kinds of taxes, including GST, and we follow all industry norms and regulations, but still we were deprived of internet which is critical for the business in our companies,” the official said, adding that despite taking up the issue of restoration of internet services with the concerned authorities multiple times, there’s been no confirmation on when the services will be resumed in the IT hub of the valley.

The continued internet shutdown has also forced many companies to curtail working hours for their employees. Many companies also had to lay off several employees due to the losses suffered in the past two months of the shutdown. The employees fear more layoffs.

A handful of established IT companies have sent out some of their employees to continue work on some critical projects in their backup offices outside the state.

“We do some work only for a few days in a week and only 10 percent of our employees come to the office; the rest have been asked to work from home,” said an IT company official. “Many companies here had to serve layoff notices to their employees and several start-ups will permanently shut down if the shutdown continues for another month.”

Most of the companies have not been able to pay their employees since August due to the shutdown, forcing many employees to quit and move out of the state to look for jobs.

“Only some established companies who have backup offices in Delhi and Bangalore are able to send a few employees outside the state to continue work on some projects that are entirely dependent on internet,” he said. “The rest of the employees here have not been able to work since August 5. And we haven’t received salaries,” exclaimed an employee.

Fayyaz Muhammad, a valley based entrepreneur who moved back to the valley a few years ago to establish a start-up, expressed his disappointment in a Facebook post by accessing internet outside the state. He pointed out that the start-up ecosystem in the valley was already weak and that the “current communications blackout” would lead to a complete collapse.

“Highly educated young men and women of Kashmir gave up lucrative careers elsewhere and returned to Kashmir to ensure that Kashmir remains active on the global start-up scene and contribute to the economy of the region but today their dreams have been buried,” he wrote on the social networking site.

Ajaz Ahmed, another employee of an IT company in Rangreth said several startup IT companies will find it difficult to survive the prolonged communications and internet shutdown.

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